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Make the most out of implanting calves

Implanting cattle has been around since the 1950s, but the myriad of protocols and combinations can make it difficult to decide which combination to use.

Despite the fact implants have a return on investment of approximately 20 to one, these growth promotants are very much underutilized in the cow-calf sector. Feedlots use implants to a far greater degree as they increase there profit margins, with increased gains and better feed efficiency. If hormone-free or organic beef is being raised then specific requirements of those programs must be followed which don’t include implants.

Know the limits

Implants should definitely be considered as calves are processed before going to pasture. Don’t implant bulls as it will affect their fertility. Heifers can be implanted if they are not kept for breeding.

A couple of the implant brands are approved for breeding heifers as long as they are administered early enough. Definitely do not re-implant these heifers as the number of open heifers the following breeding season will be very high. I personally have seen open rates in the order of 40 per cent when heifers are implanted twice before breeding. For replacement heifers it is better to not run the risk of implanting.

Implanted steers will grow near the equivalent of bull calves. My feeling it is better to castrate bulls as young as possible and then implant. You then avoid the much greater risk of infection or blood loss when bulls are castrated at a much older age. The problem of riding is also greatly reduced when castration is performed at a younger age.

Proper facilities

You need proper restraints for holding cattle when implanting. Hydraulic chutes or the shoulder restraint device on some chutes keeps the head still so implanting is easier. Be careful in handling and in applying implants. Crushed implants lead to improper absorption and sometimes bullers can result.

When implanting, are inserting the needle in the ear, pull back on the gun just a little so the implant will slide into the space created. Keep the gun and needle clean and don’t implant through manure or dirt on the ear. Producers keep a tray with a disinfectant in it beside the chute. Push the gun through rollers immersed in the disinfectant. Abscesses and/or infection can increase the risk of implant pellets falling out and/or the area is walled off and scarred, greatly minimizing absorption.

Make sure the implant guns are compatible with the implant being used. Each company has a different gun. The gun should not wear out or be stiff to operate, so if there is a problem get a new gun.

Ralgro has the smallest needle and guns for the Revalor series of implants. The gun features a metal hoop, which pushes the ear away from the gun as the implant is dispensed making crushing almost impossible. Others gun models have retractable needles.

Equipment maintenance

As with all equipment, keep needles of the implant gun sharp and have spare needles. Start with clean equipment and keep swabbing the needle through the disinfectant tray after every use. Implant in the middle of the ribs at the back of the ear on whichever side there are the least tags. Tags have a tendency to be placed in the same ideal place as implants and now with lot tags, individual identification tags and RFID tags, many prime locations for implanting have been taken. Your next ideal place is over the top of the ear half way out from the head.

Make the most of implants

Many of the implants can now be given to both heifers and steers, but read the label to be sure. And make a note of how long the implant lasts so you know when the next implant should be given.

Most implants now contain TBA, which lays down more lean meat (muscle). Although grading is something feedlots really focus on, by increasing the gain you make up for any losses a grading penalty costs. Nowadays overweight carcasses are almost a thing of the past it is all about pounds of meat.

Every time calves are processed, remember there are many different implant strategies so work out one with your herd veterinarian which best matches your type of cattle, feeding regimen and when you are most likely to handle your calves with adequate restraint to make implanting easy. Then you can capitalize on the extra gains. If feeding or backgrounding, a second and sometimes a third implant is needed to optimize gains. That’s why you may need to use both ears and different locations each time you implant.

In the cattle industry today there is nothing more safe and has a better returns on investment than implanting. †

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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