Vet's Opinion

Are You Leaving Money On The Table?


Implanted calves will provide an extra 15-30 lbs. in weaning weight. This will add up fast in today’s feeder-calf market. At $2/lb., this results in an extra $30-$60/head.

In Mark Hilton’s column on fly control last month, he briefly touched on the value and efficiencies of growth-promoting implants. Fewer than 40% of cow-calf operations use implants in their cattle, which are one of the few things guaranteed to be profitable.

In fact, the time spent to administer implants is some of the best hourly pay producers can receive. Heck, it’s some of the best hourly pay about anyone will receive, unless you’re Bill Gates. So it’s a mystery to me why this technology isn’t used more.

Of course, there are consumers who desire their beef to be “hormone-free,” but that segment is certainly not 60% of our customer base.

One of the reasons often cited for non-use of implants centers around producers’ desire to provide beef for the hormone-free market. Yet many of these producers market their cattle through traditional channels, such as auction markets. I’m not aware of any purveyors of hormone-free beef who fill their needs by going to the local livestock auction and waiting for the auctioneer to announce, “These cattle have not been implanted.”

I’ve studied the hormone-free supply chain, and, as a practicing veterinarian, I’ve overseen the health of many hormone-free cattle. I’m unaware of any program that doesn’t require arrangements to be made before the calves destined for that channel are born. So, if a producer is hoping to crack into the hormone-free market, arrangements must be made long before the cattle show up at the sale barn.

Implanting calves requires some added labor, but the benefits easily offset the extra effort. And in order to reap the full benefits, care must be taken to make sure the implant can offer its full value.

The importance of cleanliness can’t be overstated. Keep your implants clean by storing them in clean, dust-free containers, such as a resealable plastic bag. Make sure the implant needle is cleaned between implanting each calf; and if the needle skips off an ear, re-clean it.

Simply dipping the needle in a disinfectant isn’t good enough. Most disinfectants require 10 minutes or more of contact time before they can kill any bacteria present. So while it’s important to use a disinfectant, it’s equally important to actually wipe the needle on a sponge or cloth that is soaked in the disinfectant. This mechanical action of removing bacteria from the needle most likely provides as much benefit as the disinfectant. 

I’d be remiss if I didn’t discuss the human health implications of growth-promoting hormones in beef. First off, let me say that any consumer who wants to eat hormone-free beef should do so; and I think that our production chains should provide it. It’s more expensive to produce, and therefore demands a higher retail price, but consumers who desire the product should have the opportunity to purchase it.

But the fact is that using growth-promoting hormones in beef production adds so little “extra” hormone to the final product that the difference is miniscule. Be that as it may, there are many detractors who want to terrify consumers with the word “hormone.” Rather than review the numbers on hormone levels, I will direct you to this link on hormones in beef, and point out that even people on a vegetarian-based diet can consume levels of estrogen hundreds of times higher than those in implanted beef.

Implanted calves will provide an extra 15-30 lbs. in weaning weight. This will add up fast in today’s feeder-calf market. At $2/lb., this results in an extra $30-$60/head. Consult with your herd health veterinarian for recommendations on implant timing and technique, as well as which products to use — especially as they pertain to implanting potential replacement heifers. Simply put, there are very few opportunities to garner the return on investment that implanting cattle provides.

Dave Sjeklocha, DVM, is director of animal health for Cattle Empire LLC, of Satanta, KS. He can be reached at


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Discuss this Blog Entry 14

SP (not verified)
on Jun 10, 2014

I don't implant any of my cattle. It merely adds water to muscle tissue. What actual value to the consumer is this? Have you eaten a steak in a restaurant lately? You can't find a good one and I think it is from the implants. Also the extra weight is never worth the market dollars per pound. Extra weight is usually worth 25-50 cents per pound which equates to $3.75-$15.00 per head for the extra weight. Is it worth it on a $1500 steer to send a lower quality animal to market? I don't think so....

steven (not verified)
on Jun 10, 2014

SP, You need to check your facts. Implanting adds more total pounds of muscle to an animal. And muscle happens to be about 75% water. So yes, If an animal puts on an additional 30 pounds of muscle, 22.5 of those pounds would be water, but it is still added muscle.
Regarding the economics, an estrogenic implant can increase gain by about 10%. So if an animal would gain 3.5 pounds per day without an implant, it would gain 3.85 pounds per day with an implant. The additional .35 pounds per day for 100 days the implant lasts, would you give you an extra 35 pounds of beef (muscle). With the current market at $1.50 per pound, that's an additional $52.50 per head for an implant that just cost a few bucks.
If cattle are on grass and gaining about half as much as a feedlot steer, you could still make about $25.00 for the extra gain. Seems like a no brainer!

W.E. (not verified)
on Jun 10, 2014

You would be surprised how many of your customers want hormone-free beef, if you could talk to them face-to-face.

steven (not verified)
on Jun 10, 2014

W.E., When I talk to people, I inform them that hormone free beef does not exist, all cattle have hormones. And if you happen to butcher a heifer that is in estrus, the amount of estrogen in your heifer is considerably higher than an implanted steer I might sell. And besides, I wait until the implant has worn off before I sell something, so I get the full use of my implant. So my beef still has the same hormone level as yours.

on Jun 12, 2014

I doubt if I would be surprised. And besides, if they want it, all they have to do is purchase it, right? It is widely available through many outlets, so if anyone would like to have it, they can. I guess I am not sure what your point would be.

Cory (not verified)
on Jun 10, 2014

We have implanted cattle for decades with no adverse effects. We eat our own beef and so do a lot of other families as just this week we will have delivered 6 head to local butcher shops all by word of mouth, we don't go looking for customers. I have no problem with anyone producing beef without implants, but I don't agree with implying it is somehow superior. SP I don't know what restaurants you frequent, but most of our experiences have been good.

TexasLadyinCA (not verified)
on Jun 11, 2014

It doesn't seem to be an advantage to implant for weaning weights because the buyers want the thinnest, lightest weights they can get so they can put the weight on the calves themselves. Having heavier calves at weaning doesn't pay by the pound. It isn't worth the time for us. Even if it did pay by the pound, I'm not convinced that the I implanted hormones are good for a human body. Natural hormones are what they are and are naturally produced in any body. Man-made is not necessarily good. Too many times a man-made substance has been deemed safe, and after human distribution, it has been a horror. Thalidomide is an example, and there are many others. Personally, I eat all natural (without added hormones or antibiotics) because there have been too many "guaranteed" safe drugs that didn't work out so good. I do appreciate your comments and openness about allowing people to eat as they wish. Too many people these days believe forcing their views on others (like dictators) will make things change. It is valuable to have differences of viewpoint so that everyone can make their own choices.

TexasLadyinCA (not verified)
on Jun 12, 2014

Sorry, I can't seem to edit. When I get more weight on calves, then I move into a lesser pay category. So it doesn't pay to get more weight because it moves my calves into a larger weight category, so it doesn't pay for me to get more weight (i.e. I'm moved from the 400 weights to the 500 weights which pays me less per pound). So it doesn't pay to get higher weights--then I'm in a category of less pay by the pound.

As to hormones, when I do not implant, the animals have natural hormones, and those have been tested for thousands of years. But man-made hormones have not. And we have seen the ravages of man-made (man is a know-it-all that doesn't know it all). So until it has been hundreds of years of trial, I don't want to be the lab rat.

on Jun 12, 2014

I completely respect your right to eat the food you want to eat and raise your cattle the way you want to raise them. However, I would encourage you to do the math on what you are getting paid for your calves. Whether you decide to implant your calves or not, you need to understand that the only time it doesn’t pay to increase the weight of your calves is if your cost of gain per pound is exceeding your potential sale price per pound – and at today’s feeder calf prices, I can assure you that your sale price is much higher than your cost of gain. If your line of logic is true, then why don't you sell your calves at 300 or 200 lbs instead of getting them up to 400? And why is weaning weight a primary driver to cow-calf profitability? If we look at the OKC West Auction report for this week ( Calves in the 400 lb range brought $259-264/100 lbs. Calves in the 500 lb range brought $212-261/100 lbs. For the sake of simplicity, let's make this a “middle of the road” example: You took your calf crop to the sale, averaging 450 lbs, and they brought $261.50 (average of $259.00 and $264.00) per 100 lbs. This would mean that each calf was worth $1176.75. But, what if your calves averaged 550 lbs and brought $236.50 (average of $212.00 and $261.00) per 100 lbs? Then, they would each be worth $1300.75. If you had 100 calves to sell, would you rather wind up with $117,675.00 or $130,075.00 to pay your bills? Another way of looking at this is, if your calves are at home, eating grass and nursing mama, and in doing so, it is costing you $1.00 for every pound of weight that calf puts on, and you know that you can sell that calf for a minimum of $2.00 per pound, then that means you are earning $1.00 in profit for every pound that calf gains. I doubt that there has ever been a time that it was a good idea to restrict the weight gain on calves.

Dennis Hoyle (not verified)
on Jun 12, 2014

If you have implanted calves there are markets that are not open to them. I want as many options as possible. Plus I prefer to eat meat that has not been implanted or been in a feed lot.

on Jun 12, 2014

Dennis, I fully respect your right to eat the foods you choose and raise your cattle as you see fit. But, what markets are you referring to? Sure, there are "hormone-free" markets, but those arrangements must be established in advance. As I stated in the article, the purveyors of hormone free beef don't go to the auction and buy calves that the auctioneer says are hormone free. So, if the paperwork/affidavits/contracts are not taken care of way in advance of the sale date, I would submit that implanted or not, the same markets are open to all calves.

TexasLadyinCA (not verified)
on Jun 15, 2014

I disagree with you that "the purveyors of hormone free beef don't go to the auction and buy calves..." I talked to a man last year who regularly buys calves at auction, and he told me that, if the calves are labeled hormone free, he will purchase them to go to Japan. He purchases calves for Japan regularly and specifically those that are marked as hormone free. He does normally get them from individuals prior to sale, but if they come through the sale labeled as hormone free, he purchases them.

And thank you again for your response. If my calves are 500#, they sell for less. If they are 600#, they sell for less. I'm actually trying to sell them in the 400 range, and they're most often too large at 6 months to sell at that weight. Today, it is $2.60 for 400-500 and $2.44 for 500 to 600 with 300-400 having no value (probably no sales in that range). My smallest calves are at the top of the 400 range, and if they gain another few pounds, I've lost that higher payment. I'd rather they weighed 499 than 500, so I'm trying to keep their weights down into the 400 range--less cost of feed and more payments.

I do, however, agree with you that, if they are a few pounds more by implants, I will get those extra dollars IF they stay in the same category. Unfortunately, I have more growth than it pays me to have.

on Jun 17, 2014

The discussion you had with the man that sends calves to Japan is very interesting. Could you explain what "labeled hormone free" means? How does he verify that they are, in fact, hormone free? Does he just take the auctioneer's word? Does the seller have to verify that they are hormone free? If so, how does the seller do that? Why does he buy hormone-free cattle for Japan? Are these strictly feeder calves that he buys? If so, where do they get fed? In the US? Does he sell them into a hormone-free market in Japan? How does the Japanese purveyor ascertain that they are hormone-free? Did he say approximately how many hormone-free cattle he purchases for this Japanese market?

Would you mind disclosing the methods you are using to keep the weights down on your calves?

on Jun 21, 2014

He told me that my "certifying" them (by adding my statements about their freedom from antibiotics and hormones), was the guarantee he needed. I used the Angus process in advertising, and I also am certificated for animal care. I do not know what he does after. He may do some testing, but since I've stated they were free, I would guess that it would be my responsibility if something came up with them. I did not ask him several of your questions. Japan, he said, wants beef that is not treated with antibiotics or hormones. They pay for it. He has his own feedlot--small. He buys and sells all calves, but the ones that are hormone and antibiotic free he sells to Japan. The rest of the questions, I cannot answer as he was slow to volunteer more. I think he began to think I was trying to get into his market, and he seemed to become defensive. For all I know, he could lie and say many calves were. He indicated he had a market for them. That's all I know.

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What's Vet's Opinion?

Three top U.S. veterinarians provide tightly focused discussion of specific beef cattle disease and welfare topics.


Dave Sjeklocha

Dave Sjeklocha, DVM, is operations manager of animal health and welfare for Cattle Empire, LLC, Satanta, KS.

Mike Apley

Mike Apley, DVM, PhD, is a professor in clinical sciences at Kansas State University in Manhattan.

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