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Summer Gains: Implants can improve cattle performance

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

With cattle out to pasture, many producers in the region are now focusing on ways to get more growth out of their calves. One of the most efficient ways to put pounds on calves is the use of implants. 

University of Wyoming James C. Hageman Sustainable Agriculture and Research Extension Center (SAREC) Director and former Wyoming State Beef Extension Specialist Steve Paisley said, “The big reason producers use implants is additional weight gain while grazing. Most of these implants are going to give cattle a pretty significant weight gain.” 

“Generally, we see a 15 to 20 percent increase in weight gain,” Paisley continued, sharing specific differences in performance. “For example, for cattle gaining two pounds per day grazing summer grass, producers would expect to see something like 2.3 to 2.4 pounds of gain per day on implanted cattle while they are on grass. If this gain is over a summer grazing season, producers could see 30 to 40 pounds of weight gain response to an implant.”  

While implants make cattle gain weight, there are other variables which affect how big of an impact implants have on cattle growth. 

Paisley explained, “The type of implant used, the sex and age of the calves, breed and genetic makeup, the quality of grass they are on and whether the implant is given to a suckling calf or on yearling cattle on grass – all of these factors will affect how big of a response one will see in the implant.” 

Addressing concerns 

While the extra growth and performance enhanced by implants brings value to the producer, there has been some questions on the product.  

“Some producers moved away from using implants because if they market those cattle through video auction or something similar, they were concerned it would limit the number of buyers who were interested in their cattle,” shared Paisley, acknowledging an important question many producers ask. “The thought behind this was, ‘Well, maybe I am not getting the same amount of growth response out of my cattle, but hopefully I am getting a better price because there is more competition for my cattle if they qualify for a national program.’” 

However, to address this concern, Paisley said, “The economic value of an implant surpasses any additional increase of price per pound or any marketing opportunity.” 

Paisley explained producers who use implants in grazing cattle should see additional growth when managed conventionally. However, this added growth comes differently than growth from non-implanted cattle. 

Paisley broke down implanted cattle’s growth process, noting, “Cattle tend to deposit more muscle, which is more efficient than depositing fat. We tend to get more frame growth. The combination implants tend to increase feed intake.”  

With more muscle development comes a sacrifice to fat. This can potentially lead to lower quality grades and marbling in beef carcasses. While many producers have raised a concern, Paisley understands the improvements the cattle industry has made on quality grades in beef cattle.  

“We used to be worried about cattle funneling more energy into muscle and less into fat, but in looking at current rates right now, somewhere between 80 and 85 percent of all cattle grade Choice now,” said Paisley. 

Between the increased development of muscle, decreased development of fat and increased feed intake, implanted cattle use nutrients more efficiently for weight gain. 

Another concern many producers have regarding implants in grazing cattle is brought to attention when selling calves.  

“Depending on how those cattle are managed, the concern used to be cattle buyers were not willing to spend as much because the cattle had already been implanted and the cattle would not respond as aggressively to other implants. This has been proven to be false.” 

Paisley continued, “Let’s say we implant half of the steers out on summer grass. Half of those steers come in weighing 30 pounds more than the nonimplanted steers. All of the studies that have been done show when managed the same, the steers will continue to gain at the same level. Those implanted steers will ultimately be 30 pounds heavier at slaughter.” 

Paisley again credits the changes in lean muscle and fat deposition to the extra pounds gained before harvest. 

Advice for interested producers 

For producers looking to implant grazing cattle this summer, it is important to look into all of the options. All of the different implants have different combinations of dosages and effectiveness. 

Addressing interested producers, Paisley shared, “My suggestion would be to evaluate all of those factors and choose the right implant for the situation. Producers need to match the specific implant to their unique situation.” 

Savannah Peterson is an intern for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to 

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