Considerations for growth implants when finishing cattle

It is common to hear questions at beef cattle workshops regarding the use of implants for feeding out and finishing cattle for meat production. Here are some considerations for determining an implant program for use in a cattle feeding operation.

Implants are one of the most studied technologies in beef production. A well-managed strategy can improve daily gains by up to 20% and improve feed efficiency by up to 15%. However, improper implant use and lack of management adjustments may reduce quality grade and could result in undesirable effects, such as stagy looking animals or an increase in riding activity.

There are many different implants on the market that are available in different strengths of ingredients, and different combinations or single ingredients. There are also differences in the duration that the implants last. It is important to read the labels of different products to determine the appropriate use, as some implants are intended for different phases of production and different sexes of cattle.

When developing an implant strategy, it is important to work backward from the anticipated sale or harvest date of the animals. A producer may experience the greatest return on investment by having a functioning (not expired) implant in the animal’s ear its last 80 to 100 days on feed. This is the time when the animals are the least feed efficient and the greatest improvements in animal performance can be obtained. This type of implant is referred to as a terminal implant — a combination implant is most commonly used at this time. Combination implants contain two active ingredients, an estrogen or estrogen-like compound and an androgen compound.

When determining the strength of the terminal implant used, it is important to keep in mind market demands. If your cattle are marketed on a grid, and quality grade is an important factor to the pricing, then it may be better to use a moderate implant for less risk of cattle not grading. It is also important to note that animals will likely need to be finished at a heavier weight (50 to 150 pounds, depending on the potency and duration of the implant strategy), in order to grade the same as if no implant is used.

Depending on the length the cattle will be on feed, it may be possible to use an extended duration implant or a multiple implant strategy. Some of the newer implants use technology that allows the active ingredient to be released in stages, where the first stage is a lower potency followed by the release of a highpotency ingredient, with the total duration lasting up to 200 days. These products may be of interest to reduce the number of times the animals need to be implanted if they fit well with a cattle feeder’s management program.

Other options would be to use a multiple implant program backing up from the time of the terminal implant and using lower potency implants than the terminal implant earlier during the feeding period.

Different kinds of cattle may be best served with different implant strategies. For example, if a feeder has a pen of large-framed cattle and doesn’t want to them to get too large due to contract specifications, the feeder may choose to use a moderate implant for only the last 100 days on feed.

It is also important to make sure animals are fed sufficient energy and balanced rations in order for the implant to optimize their growth. Implants will not make up for lack of nutrition. An animal’s nutritional needs must be met in order for its performance to be optimized. Additional supplementation may be needed for nutritional needs to be met.

More information for helping determine implant strategies can be found in the following publications: Key Points to Consider When Developing an Implant Program, Growth Promotant Implants for Cattle, and the Texas Tech Implant Trial database.

Written by: Bill Halfman, UW- Madison Division of Extension Agriculture Agent- Monroe County, this article appeared in Wisconsin Agriculturist Magazine.

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