Farm Progress

University studies show how implanting suckling beef calves provides a good return on investment.

July 23, 2018

2 Min Read
MORE GAIN: Suckling calves can gain more weight over the grazing season if they are implanted with a growth hormone.

By Chanda Engels

If someone asked you to give them $1.50 per steer calf at spring turn out, and in return, for every 37 head (your cost is $56) they would give you an additional 550-pound steer calf at weaning, would you take the deal?

This is essentially the return you can expect if you place a small hormone implant into the ear of each suckling steer calf at turn out.

There’s a lot of independent, documented proof that implanting suckling calves pays:

In 1997 an Oklahoma Agricultural Experiment Station researcher summarized 23 research projects evaluating performance of suckling steer calves implanted between 30 and 90 days of age, with 36 milligrams of a product containing the growth-promoting Zeranol. At the end of the experiment they documented a 5.3% increase in average daily gain. Over a 130-day pasture period, the implanted steers weaned off an average of 13 pounds heavier than their non-implanted counterparts.

Since genetics have changed and improved over the years, it is important to note researchers recently found similar results when they studied a group of cattle in Oklahoma. In a 130-day pasture period, suckling steers weaned off 17 pounds heavier than their non-implanted counterparts.

Additionally, work at South Dakota State University in 2015 documented that implant technology can increase weaning weights of suckling steers by 22 pounds.

The SDSU study also looked at the effects of suckling calf performance from implants based on timing of the implant and age of dam. They implanted calves in May or August and classified dams into two groups: less than or greater than four years of age.

Overall, steers from mature dams weaned heavier calves than younger dams. Steers from mature dams that were implanted in May weaned off 40 pounds heavier than their non-implanted counterparts. However, if they were implanted in August, they only added an additional 17 pounds.

Conversely, steers from young dams (less than 4 years of age) implanted in August weaned off 25 pounds heavier than non-implanted steers. Steers from young dams implanted in May only posted a 9-pound increase in weaning weight.

Cow age definitely impacts the response that you can expect from using implant technology. Planning the implant timing based on the dam’s age will give the best possible response in suckling calves. Implant earlier in the grazing season for steers suckling older dams or later in the grazing season for steers suckling younger dams.

Studies have shown that the implants used in the suckling phase of a calf’s life don’t:

• affect the sale price of beef calves sold through video auction services. Some branded programs prohibit the use of anabolic steroids though.

• affect the average daily gain or feed efficiency when calves are implanted in the receiving, backgrounding or finishing phase.

• negatively impact subsequent carcass characteristics.

So, would you take the deal — invest $1.50 per steer calf, and get back an extra 550 pound calf for every 37 you implanted?

Engels in a former SDSU Extension cow-calf field specialist.

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