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Beef implants Implant technology may keep beef operations more sustainable

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Published on April 11, 2020

“Sustainability is the word of the year and I think rightfully so,” states Burt Rutherford, senior editor of BEEF Magazine. “Technology has played a huge role in helping cattle producers remain sustainable and implants are an important part of this technology.” 

            During an episode of BEEF’s Science Talks webinar series, titled Beef Cattle Implants for Sustainability, released March 18, Rutherford sat down with Dr. Peter Anderson, director of research at Midwest PMS and Dr. Marshall Streeter, associate director of cattle technical services for Merck Animal Health. 

“The key element of sustainability is using our resources efficiently. Implant technology certainly improves the efficiency of cattle and in turn, makes operations more profitable,” notes Anderson.

Benefit of implanting cattle

            “An implant is a compressed tablet containing growth hormones,” explains Anderson. “It is placed under the skin of the ear through a non-surgical process and then it dissolves over time, gets into the bloodstream and both directly and indirectly causes the animal to grow faster.” 

            Streeter notes implants have the ability to bring profit to beef producers through higher dollar values. 

            “As we look through each of the segments, starting with the cow/calf side of things, we see somewhere between 20 and 25 pounds of increased weaning weights from calves with implants,” Streeter states. “On the stocker side, depending on how long the cattle are on grass, we see weights increase between 25 and 30 pounds in implanted cattle.” 

            “The feedlot sees the highest value from implants, anywhere between 100 to 120 more pounds of live weight and 80 to 90 pounds of added carcass weights from implants, with virtually no additional resources required,” he adds. 

            Although Streeter points out attaching an exact dollar value to the added benefits of implants is difficult since dollar values depend on the state of the market, he also notes if fed cattle are $1.20 a pound, for example, the added 120 pounds is significant. 

Producer concerns

            Despite the fact implants have been around for several years and the technology has proven itself beneficial, Rutherford notes producers may be concerned about using implants.

            “First of all, producers need to be aware these products have been proven safe and effective by the Food and Drug Administration for years,” states Anderson. “However, there are still a few reasons why producers might choose not to implant.” 

            Anderson notes the first reason a producer may choose not to implant is if they are being paid a premium for a program that requires these products not be used.

            “There are also certain stages when heifers intended for reproduction shouldn’t be implanted as well,” he adds.

            If producers are choosing not to implant due to their affiliation with a branded program, Streeter notes they need to fully understand the value of the implant so they can effectively negotiate what they need from that program to offset the benefits they are giving up from implanting.

Although nearly all feedlot cattle are implanted, unless they are on a program, only 30 percent or less of calves receive implants because cow/calf producers generally don’t understand the advantage of implanting calves while still under their mothers, points out Rutherford. 

            “There can be up to 25 pounds added weaning weight in steer calves and 20 pounds in heifer calves, which is a meaningful increase,” Anderson says. “If producers own those calves for a longer period of time, they will receive even more of a benefit from implanting.” 

            Despite this, not many cow/calf producers utilize implants.

            “We have asked the question regarding why more cow/calf producers don’t take advantage of implants a million times,” Anderson says. “Sometimes it is facilities, handling or labor limitations. Sometimes it is because they don’t believe there is a convenient time to put the implant in the ear, and sometimes producers choose not to so they can remain eligible for branded programs and premiums when they sell their calves.” 

            Streeter also notes producers might be worried they will be discounted if they use implants. 

            “We have studied this topic quite frequently and it is one idea we do not support,” he states.

            He also notes there is obviously some cost associated with implanting, including the cost of the implant and the time it takes to gather the animals and process them, but he believes the rewards outweigh the costs.

            “One extra pound of live weaning weight pays for the cost of the implant,” he explains. “Handling them is usually not a problem either, especially if producers are getting them in to brand or vaccinate anyway.”

Consumer concerns

            Rutherford also points out adding hormonal implants may be viewed in a negative light by consumers. 

            “In order to handle this reaction from consumers, I think it is important to ask questions to find out what their real concerns are,” says Streeter. “If their concern is about estrogen levels, it might lead us down a path to discuss the relative change between an implanted and non-implanted animal or about other dietary sources of estrogen this consumer is exposed to that they are completely unaware of, particularly on the vegetable and legume side, which tend to contain a lot of phytoestrogens.” 

            “If estrogen levels are not the concern, our discussion will go down a different path, most likely discussing resource use and allocation,” he continues. “I just think it is important to make that distinction rather than blurting out an answer that may not address their concern at all.” 

            Hannah Bugas is the assistant editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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