Status of Use of Implants in Beef Cattle Production

November 2012

photo of steer in feedlotImplants are a valuable tool for beef producers that have been well researched, increase saleable weight, and have the largest return on investment of any technology available today for beef producers. With recent supply disruptions, we thought it would be valuable to revisit the issue of general use of implants in the various segments of beef production. Unfortunately, one approach to learning the value of technology may be not being able to use the technology this winter/spring. With that said, it is expected that supply issues will be resolved in 2013.

There are five main categories of use of implants that include the suckling calf, grazing implants, growing cattle, and then two potential implant categories for feedlot cattle (initial and terminal). In general, there are two doses of estrogenic implants (weak and strong implants) and then two different doses (in general) of combination implants. Combination implants contain both estrogenic and androgenic (TBA or trenbolone acetate) hormones.

Implant technique should include proper implant placement (middle 1/3 of the ear, just under the skin) and also be checked for cleanliness to avoid abscesses or improper release of the implant.

For feedlot cattle, the economics are clear that between $40 and $80 of additional return is expected. If cattle are fed to a common fatness (carcass composition of about 28% empty body fat), there is no negative impact of implanting on carcass quality. However, most studies do not compare implanted to non-implanted cattle at the same fatness but at the same days fed. These can be misleading on the impact of implants on quality grade. The data suggest feeding heifers and steers that are implanted an additional 7 to 14 days to reach the same fatness of non-implanted cattle (but they are even heavier then).

Dr. Galen Erickson
UNL Professor and Beef Feedlot Extension Specialist
University of Nebraska–Lincoln