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Midwest/North: Calfhood implants

Erika Lundy for Progressive Cattleman Published on 24 April 2019

While it is well understood that growth-promoting implants are an asset to the feedlot industry in terms of increased gains and feed efficiency, the use of implants in the cow-calf segment is often overlooked and blamed for negatively impacting quality grades.

However, the truth is: With a proper implant strategy, quality on the back end doesn’t need to be sacrificed to gain more efficient performance on the front end. Proper hormone dosage, implant timing and proper nutrition are critical to marbling deposition.

When a calf is born, its intramuscular fat level potential is already pre-determined. While management can hinder marbling deposition, we can’t add to the maximum potential. Therefore, our job as managers is to ensure we reduce the stress load in a calf’s life to reduce the risk of disrupting marbling deposition.

This includes early castration, implementing low-stress weaning strategies such as fenceline weaning or nose-flap weaning, early sickness recognition and treatment, and proper timing and administration of vaccines and implants.

Currently, three common calfhood implants are approved for suckling calves as early as 30 to 45 days old depending on the implant: Component E-C, Ralgro and Synovex-C. All of these contain estrogen or estrogen-like compounds and are considered a low-dose implant. Estrogen-based implants have been shown to have less negative impact on quality grades than more powerful trenbolone acetate (TBA) implants.

Using too aggressive of an implant early in life will negatively impact marbling deposition. Use of TBA implants late in the feeding period (i.e., last 75 to 90 days on feed) is more common because at that point, marbling deposition is already determined and has a less likelihood of being disrupted.

An implant is designed to increase growth potential. The more a calf responds to an implant, the more calories it needs to support that added growth. A diet of milk and grass may not be sufficient to meet the calf’s added nutrient requirements when implanted, especially in situations of overgrazed, dry pastures. Adding creep feed or high-quality forage into the diet will help divert extra nutrients into both muscle and fat accretion. Matching the added feed resources to implant timing is important to capture the benefit.

Calfhood implants cost roughly $1.25 to $1.50 per implant and can result in 15 to 30 extra pounds at weaning. Therefore, if the technology is effectively used, both carcass quality and production efficiency can be capitalized. However, use of the right implant at the right time coupled with proper nutrition is the key to success.  end mark

Erika Lundy
  • Erika Lundy

  • Extension Beef Program Specialist
  • Iowa Beef Center - Iowa State University
  • Email Erika Lundy