Green grass is here with many cattle going to pasture. Some calves have been processed; however, many are currently planning spring branding. One question that is often asked is if calves should be implanted with growth implants. Data has consistently shown that implanted calves will be 15 to 25 pounds heavier at weaning. Some prefer to sell their calves as “all natural” (I think most calves are natural in the fall) and many calves are advertised as all natural in the sale listings. In some cases the non-implanted calves do bring a premium, however, sale survey data show that on average the difference is relatively small.
If 550 pound implanted calves bring $115 per cwt., the comparable non-implanted calves would need to bring $119.33 or a $4.33 premium. Because they will weigh approximately 20 pounds less, the lighter cattle may bring a little more per pound plus the “all natural” claim may add some value so a higher price could be expected. However data has indicated the price difference will be less than the $4.33 needed to equal the value of the implanted calves. Many of the premiums paid for the “all natural” calves are from alliances with a designated program starting at birth. Usually these arrangements or agreements are made early and where all the requirements of the alliance or the marketing program are followed.
Some have concerns if replacement heifers should be implanted as suckling calves. If they only give one implant at branding where the calves are at least three weeks of age, fertility will not be impaired. Implanting heifer calves at birth or perhaps up to two to three weeks of age does appear to delay puberty and as a consequence conception in yearling heifers will be lower. Some have questioned if implanting calves at branding will lower quality grade when they are harvested. One trial has shown this but the majority of research has not found a significant decrease in quality grade when implanted with a lower dose implant at branding.
If the calves are backgrounded and fed as calves to harvest, where weaning weight has limited significance, some have felt the calves will compensate later in the feedlot so the earlier implants are not needed. Even though some weight gain compensation will be experienced the calf implanted calves will be heavier at harvest if a good follow-up implant program is followed. If calves are held over as yearlings where a relatively low winter rate of gain is programmed or experienced (less than one pound daily) then I see little to no benefit in implanting calves nursing the cow.
I mentioned the lower dose implants that are used at branding. Generally implants such as Ralgro, Synovex-C and Compudose are recommended. Compudose is a longer lasting implant and may offer a slightly higher response however I see no difference in response between Ralgro and Synovex-C implants.
In general, if you are selling calves at weaning I feel you may be leaving some money on the table if you do not implant calves at branding.
On a related subject, I know most will rely on their veterinarian for vaccination recommendations. I feel that the use of the 5-way viral modified live vaccines has helped decrease summer respiratory problems. Visit with your veterinarian about modified live viral vaccines at branding and follow the label restrictions.
I assisted in hosting the National Cattle Dog Trials last week in Gering, NE and couldn’t help but think of the old comment, “If a guy brings his dog to work cattle, it’s like two cowboys not showing up.” After watching the Border Collies work I think it could be said, “If a guy brings his good, well trained dog you can leave two men home.” They were absolutely amazing as I watched them work. Hope all goes well as you open the gate to lush green grass.