Implants can increase calf weights, but when should they be administered?

There are a variety of implants on the market that can help producers achieve higher gains with their beef cattle.

“To a great extent, animal growth is regulated by the pituitary gland and its secretions of growth hormone (somatotropin). Implants work by increasing (via the pituitary gland) growth hormone and insulin at the cellular level, which results in increased synthesis of muscle tissue and, frequently, reduced deposition of body fat. This causes a measurable increase in growth rate and improved feed efficiency,” Dr. Shane Gadberry, associate professor of Animal Science with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension, explained.

Many producers will wait until calves are older to consider implants, but why not consider implanting calves that are still nursing in order to get a few extra pounds?

Implants have been shown to improve gains by 4 to 5 percent, according to research from Oklahoma State University, which could mean an additional 18-20 pounds of weaning weight. According to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, “every $1 spent on implants will result in approximately a $15 to $20 return for producers selling calves at weaning.”

Is It Safe to Implant Nursing Calves?

Nursing calves should not receive implants if they are less than 30 days of age. Once they are past the 30-45-day mark, implants can be utilized safely and with good results.

“Implants can be quickly administered at branding along with calfhood vaccinations,” suggested Dr. Karla Jenkins, cow/calf and range management specialist with the UNL Panhandle Research and Extension Center. “The best way to realize the benefits of an implantation strategy is to read and follow label instructions and recommended guidelines. Implant strategies should always start with the least aggressive implants for nursing calves followed by the most aggressive implants during the finishing phase.”

Implants are recommended for steers and heifers not intended to be used for replacements – bulls and replacement heifers should not receive implants as it can interfere with their natural development. Producers should always read the label and follow the instructions.

How Much Extra Can Calves Gain?

“If the calves are thrifty, have a good milking mother and are gaining a pound and a half or more per day they should wean off 20 to 25 pounds heavier than non-implanted calves,” Eldon Cole, livestock specialist with the University of Missouri Extension, said.

A quality diet is important to help animals fully utilize the implant.

“Cattle being implanted must also be consuming a high-quality diet to maximize the effect of the implant,” Jenkins said. “Therefore, weaned cattle that will be fed low-quality forage through the winter will not benefit from implants as much as cattle on a higher plane of nutrition.”

Producers might wonder about whether the additional cost is worth it, according to Cole.

“The cost is variable depending on the implant but usually is around $1.25 per calf,” he said.

Are There Side Effects of Implanting Nursing Calves?

“The side effects are minimal in steers. Implanted heifers may be a bit slower in reaching puberty. If a mistake is made and a bull is implanted, his testicle development is affected. If producers are targeting an all-natural, organic or never-ever market they would not want to implant at any time. Most of the serious side effects occur if the wrong implant is used for that sex of calf. Keep in mind that post-weaning, the calves will be likely given one, two or event three implants as they develop in the stocker and finishing phase. They are a useful tool to aid in profitability with no harm to cattle or humans when used as recommended,” Cole said.


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