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What’s the real story about implants?

W. Mark Hilton for Progressive Cattleman Published on 24 January 2018

What would you say if I told you that, for approximately $1.30 per animal, you could improve calf performance by 0.11 pound per day when you use implants? That means for just over $1 per animal, you could be adding anywhere from $20 to $30 of value per calf.

So why aren’t more producers using implants? Well, there are lot of misconceptions out there affecting our industry. Let’s take a look at a few of those myths and see what the real story is.

Myth No. 1: Non-implanted cattle receive premiums

A common reason for not using implants is the perception premiums are paid at the sale barn for non-implanted cattle. The reality is different. A four-year study of over 23,000 head showed no difference in dollars per hundredweight for calves that received a nursing calf implant compared to those that didn’t.

Consider this: Over 90 percent of all feedlot cattle receive growth-enhancing implants, which leaves less than 10 percent of the market with buyers looking for non-implanted cattle. So, if you are selling non-implanted cattle with the hope of getting a premium, your chances may be limited because these cattle are sourced well ahead of sale day.

Myth No. 2: Nursing calf implants decrease performance in later phases

Numerous trials show nursing calves that have been implanted have equal performance in the backgrounding and feedlot phases compared to non-implanted calves. Over the life of the calf, the effect of each implant is additive, which ultimately increases value and reduces production costs.

One study showed steers that had an implant as calves, during the stocker phase, and at the feedyard had an increase in live weight of 126 pounds. That increased the steer’s value by more than $90 per head.

Myth No. 3: Implants increase hormones in beef

The difference in estrogen levels in implanted beef compared to non-implanted beef is minimal. Three ounces of beef from a steer that received growth-enhancing implants has 1.9 nanograms – which is less than two billionths of a gram – of estrogen. The same amount of beef from a non-implanted calf has 1.2 nanograms of estrogen.

Here’s some perspective: There are about 1 billion blades of grass on two football fields. Now, picture seven-tenths of a blade of grass on these two fields; that is the difference in estrogen between implanted and non-implanted beef.

Compare that amount of estrogen in beef to a 3-ounce serving of soy milk commonly served in a latte. Those 3 ounces of soy milk contain 11.25 million nanograms of estrogen or 5.9 million times more estrogen per ounce than beef that received an implant. Implanted or not, beef is very, very low in estrogen.

There are many implant products available. Some are for nursing calves and others only for the finishing phase, which means using the correct product for the weight and stage of production is critical. Be sure to work with your herd health veterinarian, nutritionist or beef cattle extension specialist to develop an implanting program that fits your market.  end mark

References omitted but are available upon request. Click here to email an editor.

W. Mark Hilton
  • W. Mark Hilton

  • DVM, Technical Consultant
  • Elanco
  • Email W. Mark Hilton