To Implant or Not to Implant?

May 2016

photo of calf roped by cowboy on horseback
It has been well documented that implants can improve ADG from implanting at branding until weaning. Photo courtesy of Troy Walz.

As we enter this branding season, producers may be asking themselves the following questions:

  1. Will implanting at branding time affect the price of the calves when sold in the fall?
  2. Is implanting calves at branding time worth the investment?

While it has been well documented that implants can improve average daily gain (ADG) from implanting at branding until weaning, the use of this technology has decreased in the last 20 years. In a recent study by Seeger et al. (2011), the authors analyzed the sales of 5 million calves sold through video auctions and reported that the percentage of lots marketed as implanted decreased from 64.3% in 1995 to 26.5% in 2009. The National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS, 2008) reported that only 9.8% operations with less than 50 cows used calfhood implants while those greater than 200 cows reported 26.9% usage.

Much of the decrease can be attributed to the assumption that non-implanted calves will bring more dollars at sale time. This may have been the case in 1995 when there was a smaller supply of non-implanted calves. In a recent analysis of calves offered for sale through Superior Livestock from 2010 to 2013 by Rogers et al. (2015), the authors found that the implant status of the calves had no effect on final price for each of the four years the study was conducted. The percentage of lots that were implanted each year of the study was 28.4, 30.3, 30.5, and 29.0.

With the cost of a calfhood implant (Ralgro or Synovex C) at less than $1.50 per head it will only take a few pounds to pay for the cost as well as your time. A study by Dr. Clay Mathis at New Mexico State University reported an increase in weaning weight from 3 to 32 pounds (see Table 1 below).

Table 1 - average weaning weight

The difference in growth response from the implant may be driven by environmental factors such as grass quality and availability. Recent moisture this spring should improve the chances of good grass production but long term weather forecasts for the summer are predicting above average temperatures with average rainfall for much of the Northern Plains.

While it is known that we will get a response in ADG if grass production is adequate, we cannot accurately predict what the growth response may be. We do know that if we choose not to implant, the market may not offer enough premiums for the weight gain sacrificed.

For additional information please see the “Implants in Nursing Calves” article.

Kelly Bruns
Nebraska Extension Beef Specialist

Erin Laborie
Nebraska Extension Educator

  • NAHMS (National Animal Health Monitoring System. 2008. Beef 2007-08. Part I: Reference of Beef Cow-Calf Management Practices in the United States, 2007-08. USDA, Washington, DC.
  • Rogers, G.M., M.E. King, K.L. Hill, T.E. Wittum, and K.G. Odde. 2015. The Professional Animal Scientist 31:443-447.
  • Seeger, J.T., M.E. King, D.M. Grotelueschen, G.M. Rogers, and G.S. Stokka. 2011. Effect of management, marketing, and certified health programs on the sale price of beef calves sold through a livestock video auction service from 1995 through a 2009. J. Am. Vet. Med. Assoc. 239:451-466.