“Implants are one of the most cost-effective technologies available to beef producers. Not only do they boost gains, they improve feed efficiency and increase protein deposition,” says Eldon Cole, University of Missouri Extension livestock specialist. In fact, research studies show growth promoting impacts can reduce overall production costs by 7%, he adds.

An implant is a small pellet or group of pellets placed under the skin on the backside of the animal’s ear. The growth-promoting compound is released slowly over varying periods of time ranging from 60 to 200 days or more. Implants are designed for nursing calves, steers and heifers on pasture and in feedlot situations.

Cole says the use of implants is greatest in feedlots where its use approaches 90%, similar to the usage level seen at the stocker/backgrounder level. But fewer than 20% of cow-calf operations use the tool, he says.

Implants come in a variety of price ranges. Several are available for under $1/head while longer-acting products will be in the $2.50 range when larger volumes are bought.

Gain responses depend on the animal’s rate of gain. “Typically, we see an extra 15-20 lbs. on the implanted calf at weaning. Stocker cattle, provided the forage supply is good, may even respond with a 10-15% improvement in daily gain,” Cole says.

Implants on nursing calves are given between 2 and 4 months of age.

“Some are approved for heifer calves, but if they are destined for breeding stock, some owners will only implant the steer calves,” Cole says.

If heifers are implanted, only approved products should be used one time between one month of age and weaning time.

Bull calves often are left intact to reap greater gains from their natural hormone output.

“Research indicates castration early in life, along with a growth promotant, will essentially equalize weight gains for the bull and implanted steer at weaning,” Cole says.

Early castration reduces the overall stress on the calf. Bull calves are discounted at the market and at some point will suffer more from late castration than they would have if castrated as nursing calves