Today, less than 15 percent of suckling calves are implanted. A surprisingly fewer number given this technology can deliver producers a 4,000 percent return on investment.

The 85 percent of calves that are not implanted average 23 pounds less at weaning, but they require the same resources as their implanted counterparts.

That’s a significant loss in value. Especially when you consider 95 percent of cattle entering a feedyard receive implants.

When we look at why producers aren’t implanting, there are many reasons. Many of which are misconceptions of the products or the market.

Those producers may feel that non-implanted calves bring more money at sale time, or that implants reduce performance for the next buyer in the chain. However, this rationale just doesn’t seem to hold up when we look at the data.


A few misconceptions about implants:

MYTH: Implants are not sustainable

The beef community has widely accepted a definition of sustainable practices as those that are environmentally responsible, economically viable and socially responsible.

Producing more beef with the same or fewer resources provides less stress on the environment, benefits the cattle producer’s bottom line and provides more beef consumers crave at a good value.

According to Jude Capper, Ph.D. from Washington State University, traditional (or conventional) beef production has the smallest footprint per pound of beef.

When comparing carcasses from traditional, natural and organically raised cattle, the traditional carcasses produced more beef and took fewer days to finish. That means fewer days these cattle were eating, drinking and producing manure.

Beef production technologies are just one part of producing sustainable beef. Improvements in genetics and animal health have played a large role in the continued improvement in beef production during the last 60 years.

Healthy, productive animals have allowed us to minimize our footprint, while continually producing more quality beef at a good value.

Producing 23 pounds more weight at weaning from implants – with the same resources – helps economically, environmentally and socially.

MYTH: Implanted calves will not perform as well later

It’s a common misconception that calves implanted in the early stages of life will “steal” later performance response from implants in the later phases of beef production.

According to Chris Reinhardt, Ph.D. from Kansas State University, numerous university and private industry studies disprove this. Implanted cattle that leave grass for the feedyard 30 pounds heavier leave the feedyard a similar 30 pounds heavier at finish.

Non-implanted calves simply do not catch up to those cattle given implants on grass.

MYTH: Implanted calves bring less money

As one of our customers says, you “pay the banker with dollars per head, not cents per pound.” During the last decade, premiums for non-implanted calves have varied, but the amount needed to overcome the weight gained from implants is not there in today’s market.

According to studies on premiums conducted by universities and CattleFax, implanted calves are not penalized at market.

And when you can add 23 pounds at $1.75 in today’s markets, the value is tremendous. Producers are leaving money on the table by not implanting calves.

There is additional value in pre-conditioning calves, providing age and source verification information and/or marketing through a branded-beef program.

MYTH: Implants reduce reproductive performance

For replacement heifers, pregnancy rates and reproductive performance is critical. Multiple trials have shown us there is little, if any, effect on pregnancy rates when implanting heifers at least 1 month old.

We do know that implanting at birth reduces conception rates, as does multiple implants. That’s why we recommend waiting until your prospective replacement heifers are at least 1 month old to implant.

It’s important to consider the carryover effects of any product in breeding animals. Studies have shown there is no effect on weaning weights of implanted heifers’ offspring, nor is there an effect on rebreeding these heifers as 2-year-olds.

Consider implants

Add value, maximize resources and produce more quality beef for the consumer. Implants help the beef production chain meet worldwide consumer demand for beef sustainability.

Each rancher needs to weigh the benefits and determine if implants are a good fit in his or her own program. Hopefully, we’ve busted some of the myths and made the decision a little easier.  end_mark

Kyle Vander Pol, Ph.D., is a technical services specialist for Merck Animal Health. He focuses his time on sales support, discussing new research information with consulting nutritionists and veterinarians, and feedyard implementation of specific health and growth-promoting products.

Additionally, Dr. Vander Pol spends a significant amount of time on-site with producers working on problem solving and efficiency.


Kyle Vander Pol
Managing Supervisor
Merck Animal Health