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Implanting: Tried and True or New to You?

By Jessica Smith, PAg, Livestock and Feed Extension Specialist, Swift Current

December 2019

Do you use growth promoting hormones in your cow/calf herd? Research has consistently shown that using growth promoting implants in nursing calves increases weight gains and improves feed efficiency. Implants can be relatively inexpensive (around $2.00/implant) and can have significant returns for your calves. Kathy Larson, with the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Agriculture and Bioresources, referenced a study completed by Selk in 1997 which found that in 150 days, steer calves gained an additional 15 pounds. Growth promoting implants is a proven practice that is easy to perform and guaranteed to increase profits.

The use of growth promoting implants allows ranchers to produce more beef using less feed and water. Growth hormones being implanted into the animal work with the animal’s naturally occurring hormones to increase hormone production promote muscle growth. The use of these hormones has been found to be safe for human consumption as the amount of additional hormones ending up in the meat is negligible. Alberta Beef Producers puts this into perspective with some numbers. For example, 75 grams of beef without hormone implants contains 1.1 nanograms of estrogen while 75 grams of beef with hormone implants only contains a slightly higher amount of estrogen at 1.9 nanograms. Comparatively, 75 grams of cabbage contains 2,205 nanograms of estrogen and the adult female body contains 480,000 nanograms of estrogen (which is the equivalent of 95.3 cows’ worth of beef produced using hormone implants).

When implanting, it is important to consider which type of animal you are planning to implant. There are a variety of different implants and each has specifications on which type of animal they can be used on. Steer and heifer calves can both be given growth promoting implants. There are certain products and times that replacement heifers should not be given implants, but it is possible to implant them as young calves. It is not recommended to use implants on bull calves as it will affect their reproductive abilities as they mature. Always follow the directions on the product packaging to ensure you are using the right implant on the right animal at the right time.

There are steps you can take to ensure the implants are effective. The proper location to insert an implant is the middle third of the ear. This allows the implant to be absorbed at the proper rate and prevents it from migrating to other places in the body where it won’t be absorbed at all. You also want to avoid the blood vessels in the ear. Making sure the implanting gun and the ear of the animal are both clean will minimize the risk of infection and abscesses at the site of implantation. Once you have inserted the implant, you want to feel with your fingers to make sure it has remained in the ear. Proper technique will help increase your rate of success while using growth promoting implants.

Whether you have been using implants for a long time, or are just thinking about using them, you can see there are a lot of things to consider. If you are looking for an easy way to increase calf weight gains and profits, implants are an inexpensive and easy way to do so. If you have any questions on growth promoting implants or anything else livestock related, please contact your local Livestock and Feed Extension Specialist for more information or call the Agriculture Knowledge Centre general inquiry line at 1-866-457-2377.

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