When it comes to branding time, vaccinations for the calves, pre-breeding shots for the cows, and a great lunch for the crew are standard. Nearly 70% of US producers, however, miss a golden opportunity that could be done at branding time that could potentially increase calf pay weight in the fall by 40 pounds per calf. This opportunity I’m referring to is implanting suckling calves.
Growth implants have been approved since the 1950s, and involve implanting a small pellet in the
mid-ear site that
slowly releases growth hormones, such as estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone,
throughout the growing phase. The growth
hormones consequently increase muscle growth and delay fat deposition, which
results in a larger framed calf, allowing for more pounds to be added to the
|Research has shown implanting suckling calves increases gains by four to |
six percent, and has no impact on sale price. Photo by Kari Lewis.
The benefit of using implants on suckling calves is clear. Studies have shown that implanted calves gain an additional four to six percent, compared to non-implanted calves. Those increased pounds can add an additional 15 to 30 pounds at weaning time to each calf. If each pound of gain is worth $1.50/pound, that can add an additional $20 to $40/calf, easily paying for the $1.50 cost of the implant. Research has shown that implanted steer calves will gain an additional 0.1 lb/day, while implanted heifer calves will gain an additional 0.12 to 0.14 lb/day from implanting until weaning. Only heifer calves that will be marketed as feeder calves should be implanted, potential replacement heifers should not be implanted.
There are a couple common misconceptions related to using implants that I will address. One myth is that calves who have been implanted are discounted when they are sold. However, a 2015 analysis by Rogers et al. examined nearly 2.5 million calves sold over a four-year period in 92 video auctions, and found that implant status had no impact on sale price in any of the years. The study noted that nonimplanted calves typically weigh less at weaning, therefore, nonimplanted calves would need to bring a substantial price premium to offset the decreased number of pounds sold.
Another misconception is that implanted cattle have reduced carcass quality compared to non-implanted cattle. If cattle are fed to a common fat thickness, there is no negative impact of implants on carcass quality. Implanted cattle typically need to be fed an additional week or two during the finishing phase to reach the same fatness as non-implanted cattle, and at that point have a similar quality grade compared to non-implanted cattle, and have a greater pay weight.
As you plan your spring calf work, don’t overlook the opportunity to utilize growth implants in your calves. They are a safe, proven technology that can increase gain four to six percent; don’t leave pounds (and dollars on the table) come fall!