It is nice to see the spring rains come to get the grass started; hopefully timely rains will continue. I have been hearing some grumbling about the persistent rains, and after trudging through considerable mud and rain today, I understand the frustration, but these days will pass. As we see the tremendous flooding to the east and the southeast, and yet the devastating drought in the south and southwest, we can consider ourselves fortunate in most of the intermountain and high plains area.
Many brandings are currently being planned, and yearling cattle will be going to grass very soon. As we plan to put suckling calves or yearling cattle on grass, one management tool that should be considered is growth implants. Growth implants provide one of the highest returns on our investment, yet a very high percentage of suckling calves are not implanted. Data consistently shows that implanted nursing calves will gain 4-5 percent more than non-implanted calves, or a 550-pound calf will be 20-25 pounds heavier at weaning. If that added weight is worth $1 per pound, that equates to about a 12:1 return on the investment for the implant - not bad.
In yearling cattle where gains often exceed 2 pounds daily, implants will increase gain 7-10 percent. If 250 pounds of gain is achieved on grass, then implanted steers will be 17-20 pounds heavier in the fall.
Several reasons are given for not implanting, including added labor and cost, but most often there is a concern they will not be able to sell the cattle as "natural." A large number of calves sold through Superior Livestock Auction were analyzed by Kansas State University researchers for factors that affect sale price. Researchers concluded that implanted calves did not sell at a significantly lower price. They did note that groups of calves that contained a portion of calves implanted were discounted up to $1.50 per hundredweight, however the researchers pointed out that these were usually calves that were less uniform, possibly of mixed origin and appeared to be of slightly lower quality. In most cases cattle that are sold as "natural" must be part of an alliance that follows a distinct protocol for that particular company and then a premium may be paid. Also keep in mind that even though we hear that the "natural" market is growing, which it is, it is still less that 2 percent of beef marketed. In other words, the consumer has faith in our beef that utilizes approved technology, reflective of 98-plus percent of the market.
Some believe that implanted calves will not perform as well in future growing and finishing programs. Plenty of data indicates that if cattle are continued on a positive plane of nutrition, subsequent performance will not be adversely affected. The only calves that I do not recommend implanting are those that are going to be retained and wintered on a low plane of nutrition so they will go the grass as light yearlings. I would start the implant program on those cattle as they go to summer grass as yearlings.
Some question if replacement heifers should be implanted. Certainly there are less advantages of implanting heifers that will be held for replacements, however it is usually not known which heifers will be retained at branding. If it is known which heifers will be retained, typically the older ones, AI-sired heifers and those from the super cows, it may be advisable to skip those at branding. I certainly do not recommend implanting heifers that will be used for breeding if they are less than 2-3 weeks old, as this can adversely effect reproduction.
Several implants are approved for suckling steers and heifers, including replacement heifers. They are Ralgro, Synovex-C and Component E-C, (similar to Synovex-C, only it contains Tylan on the tip to reduce infection of implant site). Also for sucking steer calves, Compudose and Encore are approved. Ralgro is approved for calves over 30 days of age, while the others are approved in calves at least 45 days of age. More potent implants and a wider selection are available for yearling cattle.
It is important that implants be placed in the ear properly (on the backside and in the middle one-third) and be administrated with sanitization in mind. I prefer dipping the needle in a sanitizing solution such as Nolvasan between each calf. If the ear has considerable manure in it, wash with a disinfectant, just like they do at the feedlots.
In summary, implants can improve the gain on calves or yearlings going to grass and will yield a good return on your investment.