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Implants Pay

Implanting is still after all these years one of the most underutilized management tools in beef production. The feedlot sector has pretty much adopted routine implanting but the cow-calf sector lags far behind.

It is one thing if “natural, hormone-free, or organic” beef is being raised and implants must be avoided as part of these programs. With this type of beef production you should be receiving approximately a 20 per cent premium to justify the extra costs in raising your beef. Otherwise the economic benefits are hugely in favour of implanting with a 15-25 to one return on investment in implants through better gains and feed-to-gain ratio. Remember, young calves have the best feed-to-gain ratio so growing them fast at a younger age will decrease both your feed bill and days to market.

There are a multitude of different products out there so your veterinarian can advise which specifione or combination best fits the specifiage, size and type of calves you are raising.

Implanting should cross your mind every time cattle are going to be processed. Of course bull calves should not be implanted as it affects their testicular development. It is usually avoided with replacement heifer calves as well but a couple of the implants are approved for use in very young calves if they are used only once. I have personally seen a case where two implants given in succession to growing heifers resulted in a 40 per cent open rate. Besides which having your heifers 20 to 30 pounds heavier at breeding is probably inconsequential to your operation.

On the steer side beef production is about raising pounds of beef and implants allow you to reach your goal sooner with improved feed efficiency.

It is much safer and less stressful to castrate your bull calves preferably at birth with the rubber bands. This is an ideal time to implant them with one of the calf products. Implanted steers with this hormonal supplementation will grow just as well as intact bull calves. Depending on when they are born most steers could then be reimplanted going to grass. Implants last 90 to 150 days so timing should be based on having very little overlap.

The controversy that has grown up about hormones in the meat, even among some producers, is undeserved. Suffice it to say you will receive many times more estrogen from a serving of eggs, cabbage or alfalfa sprouts than you will from implanted beef. The amount of estrogen in one pound of implanted meat is minuscule and has been proven time and again to be perfectly safe as these hormones occur naturally in the body in levels many times higher than in implanted beef. Implants generally have zero meat withdrawal, again indicating their huge safety margin.

Where the real problems can develop is with implanting technique. The three main problem areas are infection at the site, crushing of the implant and site selection.

You want to make sure the site (in the middle of the ear between the cartilages) is clean. If you are still unsure about implant site check with your veterinarian or someone skilled in the technique. At one time they used to recommend targeting the base of the ear with a Ralgro implant. This is no longer acceptable and all implants are to be given in the middle of the ear. This site ensures proper absorption and the ear never enters the food chain.

A common mistake when first implanting is to drive the needle through the ear and deposit the pellets on the ground. To avoid this error position the applicator to enter the ear at a flat angle with the bevel of the needle up. Grasp the end of the ear to keep it taut. Avoid placing the implant into the cartilage. Absorption would be seriously impaired as there is very little blood in the cartilage. Avoid the large vessels in the ear to minimize bleeding.

Infection and abscessation with implants being walled off or falling out is another common problem. Take care to keep the site clean. If the ear is covered with manure use the other one. Swipe the needle clean with alcohol or disinfectant and routinely clean the gun, as this is often a source of infection.

The Component line of implants now has one product containing the antibiotic Tylan. This has been proven to help prevent inflammation at the site so the implant is absorbed more evenly resulting in better growth.

Get into the habit of palpating the ear to be sure the implant is placed properly and then pinching off the needle hole. This minimizes the chance of infection wicking up inside the ear or pellets falling out. Every time there is infection the cost of the implant is wasted and gain has been lost so you want to keep infections to a minimum. When the incidence creeps up to even one or two per cent review your implanting technique. Some crews even brush the ear first to remove excess dust and debris. And always be sure to store your implants in a clean, dry area.

Crushing an implant causes the drug to be absorbed too fast and can create riders or bullers. Some implant guns have retractable needles, which pretty much eliminate crushing. Otherwise withdraw the needle a bit before discharging the implant to avoid crushing the pellets.

Restraint is critical to proper implantation. The head must be held secure. Newer chutes have the head bars to do this. The new shoulder restraint device also restricts the backward and forward motion of an animal in the chute.

When using older chutes or calf cradles, try to catch the animal “short in the chute,” with its head just out beyond the front. It cannot be allowed to swing its head from side to side.

If you haven’t implemented an implant program into your operation think of doing it now. The economics defi-nitely support this procedure. There is no better time than now to begin implanting. Incorporate it with other management tools you are using such as vaccinating, ear tagging or castrating. On long-term cattle work out an implant program with your veterinarian. With proper technique there is definitely a big return on this investment.

About the author


Roy Lewis is an Alberta-based veterinarian specializing in large-animal practice. He is also a part-time technical services vet for Merck Animal Health.



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