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Implanting strategies to maximize profitability

Chad Howlett Published on 01 August 2011
Cattle at the bunk

Back in April when I wrote my last article, feed costs were at all-time record highs and – thankfully – live cattle were fetching unprecedented prices.

Since that time, we have seen a slight increase in feed prices while cash cattle have fallen steadily.

Having said that, producers still have opportunity to remain profitable if buying and selling decisions are made properly, management and attention to detail are as high as they can possibly be, and technology implementation is given serious consideration.

Bottom line, anything and everything you can do to reduce cost of gain needs to be done.

One of the most basic yet effective approaches to positively influence beef production efficiency is to administer growth-promoting implants.

Beef producers have utilized these products for more than 35 years. According to the Texas Tech database, these technologies have increased gain by 10 to 20 percent and enhanced feed efficiency by 10 to 15 percent, while yielding substantially heavier carcasses when compared to their non-implanted contemporaries marketed at similar ages or days on feed.

Unless your end market strictly dictates that you do not use growth- promoting implants, implementing this technology is something every producer should consider.

Implant primer

Implant programs are not all black and white, however, and one particular program is certainly not the prescription for success for all producers.

The success of an implant program is influenced by many factors. Consideration needs to be given to variables such as genetic potential of the animal, sex of the animal, nutritional/health background of the animal before it arrived to your backgrounding yard or feedlot, your current feeding program, available labor resources and facilities and the marketing criteria you are targeting.

To make the best decisions regarding an implant program, we must first understand how implants work. The main function of implants is to drive lean tissue growth.

To illustrate this, and for the lack of argument, let’s make some assumptions that a typical non-implanted steer is determined to be finished at 1,175 pounds with a total empty body fat of 28 percent.

Theoretically, if we used a moderately aggressive implant strategy on that same steer, we would still want to market it at the same percent body fat of 28 percent.

However, the steer would weigh about 1,250 pounds at that same body fat, roughly 75 pounds heavier. Danny Fox and co-workers from Cornell University demonstrated similar advantages to growth-promoting implants in 2002.

The more you increase the potency, the higher the weight at equal body fatness.

Many implants are available on the market today and each one of them has value, depending on variables discussed above.

The three main types of implants are estrogenic, androgenic or a combination of the two. Estrogenic implants increase levels of insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) and somatotropin, commonly known as growth hormone.

Both of these substances are naturally occurring in cattle and have an impact on how nutrients are used by the animal for the development of muscle, fat and bone.

The two main estrogenic agents found in implants are estradiol or estradiol benzoate. The androgenic implants contain the compound trenbalone acetate (TBA).

Dale Zobell of Utah State University says that while TBA does not seem to increase somatotropin levels, it does significantly increase levels of IGF-1 and decrease muscle loss of sedentary animals.

For ease of distinguishing “classes” of implants, many individuals categorize them into low, moderate or aggressive potency.

Choose your tools

Knowing the variables at play will ultimately allow you to choose the right implant program for you, whether you’re backgrounding cattle or finishing them.

It’s imperative that cattle type, nutrition and management are all taken into consideration to make your product attractive to your end market. Cattle must have ample nutrition before implants can have a positive influence on production efficiency.

Take this case, for example. Backgrounded cattle may be predestined for a feedyard marketing high-quality grade cattle to packers.

The nutritional program only allows for a 1.7-pound average daily gain (ADG). In this case, Robbi Pritchard from South Dakota State University says that providing an implant at this stage may have negative effects on quality grade.

He goes on to say that low-potency implants would be acceptable for gains above 2.25 pounds, while moderate-potency implants could be administered for gains above 2.5 pounds.

The data continues to accumulate relative to the effects of dietary energy on “young” cattle. Implanting without enough energy to fuel the increased energy metabolic activity of the implant could be detrimental in quality-based marketing systems.

On the other hand, if you’re a producer who typically finishes a set of “reputation” cattle with high genetic potential for safely grading, a more aggressive program administered in the feedyard may allow you to still reach your market criteria.

Cattle that are young relative to their weight and enter the yard with a little more flesh could certainly be candidates for a more aggressive program.Assuming your diets are high in energy, these cattle could still achieve the desired outcome.

Cattle that fit the plan

With a moderate to aggressive program, you have to be sure your cattle and management are right for marketing to a quality-based program.

Based on data from Kelly Bruns at SDSU in 2002, delaying a combination implant until cattle are on an acceptable caloric intake can reduce negative impacts on quality grade, as opposed to administering a combination implant on arrival.

Another approach here may be to start cattle on a lower-potency estrogenic implant followed by the combination implant.

Relationships between values of quality grade premiums and cost of gain can create situations where one outweighs the other and sacrifices may be made to achieve maximum profitability.

Recent observations from the field have shown that producers who market their cattle on a live basis strive for the most pounds and reducing cost of gain to the highest degree.

These producers had no constraints on quality grade and, with feed and live cattle prices at all-time highs, the most aggressive programs were implemented.

A similar approach would be valuable if the cattle you’re marketing are headed to the grid with heavy premiums for yield grade.

Regardless of the marketing system, it’s recommended that as one implant runs out, the next should be of equal or greater potency.

As an animal matures, its growth rate starts to slow down and lean tissue deposition follows. As animals reach their terminal endpoint, keeping potency similar or more aggressive helps to shift the growth curve so efficiency of gain can be maintained.

Pay special attention to metabolic payout of the implant, particularly toward the end of the period. It’s much more costly to run out of implant functionality at the end, where the growth curve flattens out, as opposed to up front, where the curve is steeper and efficiency of gain is greater.

It’s quite obvious that implanting cattle can be used to lower production costs and, when managed properly, can result in the type of end product your packer desires.

Work with your consultant to evaluate the variables on your operation and implement a program that can add to your bottom line.  end_mark

PHOTO

TOP: Cattle need to have ample nutrition before implants can have a positive influence on production efficiency. Photo by Philip Warren.

chad howlett

Chad Howlett
Beef Specialist
Vita Plus Corporation

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