Don't shortchange yourself when implanting cattle.

Few management programs in the beef industry provide the payback of implants. Yet improperly done, implants not only decrease the potential available but can be a total waste of money.

Improper administration reduces absorption of an implant's active ingredients. A 1987 survey of 2,573 head of cattle in the southern Great Plains found that 33.7% (range of 4.6-62.2%) of implants administered were "problem implants," (Table 1, page 67). The estimated economic loss ranged from 18 cents to $10.09/head. Operator error was a major contributing factor.

The problems included abscess formation, bunching and/or crushing of pellets, part or all of the implant missing, extensive fibrosis around the implant, placement in the ear cartilage rather than subcutaneously, and placement in the low-base site of the ear.

Implant Location And Delivery All implants must be placed in the middle third of the ear (Figure 1). This placement ensures that any remaining implant at time of slaughter is discarded with the offal. This location also causes less tissue damage from infections and thus better absorption and growth response.

The recommended procedure for implanting is to insert the sterile needle completely into the middle third or no closer than 111/42-2 in. from the base of the ear. Withdraw the needle about the length of the actual implant, and depress the trigger to deposit the implant. The most common error is failing to retract the needle as the implant is deposited.

Post-Implant Procedure Immediately after implanting, run your thumb over the implant site. This will tell you whether a blank was fired. Blanks usually result from an operator failing to advance the implant cartridge to the next dose, or shoving the needle through the ear cartilage and depositing implants on the ground or in the ear canal. One can also retract the implant gun too quickly and deposit the implants outside the ear.

Other errors this self-check system will point out include whether the implant was deposited in the cartilage rather than subcutaneously, or whether only a portion of a multiple pellet implant was deposited in the ear.

After the self-check, pinch the needle insertion hole closed with your fingers. This reduces the possibility of the implant being ejected if the calf shakes its head, as well as the possibility of infection migrating from the needle insertion hole to the implant and causing abscess formation.

Most of these corrective actions depend on the person responsible for implant care and for performing the implant procedure.

Proper Restraint Is A Must Where calves are roped and dragged to the fire, the roper and calf holders are key members in the implanting process. The head must be restrained, and the rope kept taut to prevent loose kicking hind feet.

When using a squeeze chute, the head-catch operator must not only assure each animal is caught but caught properly. If caught long in the chute, the animal's head can swing, making implanting more difficult. It also poses a safety problem for the operator, especially with horned cattle. Cattle caught short in the chute are adequately restrained for proper implanting.

Make sure the equipment is adequate for the job. If it's not, overhaul or replace it. A common alteration to squeeze chutes is an implant bar - a 4-in. bar welded vertically on both exterior sides of the head catch. This extends the neck and holds the head in a stationary position for implanting.

Educating the implanting crew on the economics of problem implants usually helps correct technique-related problems. Slowing the processing crew down and providing training on proper implanting procedures and general chute processing will maximize animal response and minimize animal stress and tissue damage. A well-educated processing crewwith low fatigue and good concentration, that's paid by the hour, day or month rather than by the head, has proven to be a far superior method of processing cattle.

Sanitation Reduces Abscesses Improper sanitation during implanting is the major cause of most abscesses. An abscessed injection site affects implant absorption and reduces the response. More abscesses will result when implanting is done in wet, sloppy weather. Assign implanting to a qualified individual who has the time, knowledge and ability to ensure proper sanitation before and after implanting.

Some of the following tips may sound extreme and unrealistic, but they are musts if a producer desires maximum implant benefit with minimum stress and abscess formation to the animal.

* Improper storage results in implants being covered with dirt or rodent and insect excrement before use. Store implants in a cool, dry place, such as a closet in a temperature-controlled office or old refrigerator. Unused implant cartridges that have been removed from the original package should be stored in a sealable (i.e., plastic zip-lock bags) container for protection from dirt and moisture.

* Handling implants at chute side and branding time is critical. Placing implants on a dirty table at chute side, or on the ground when roping and branding calves, exposes implants and equipment to filth and windblown dirt and feces.

Use a plastic zip-lock bag or covered tray. Place the implant gun in a protected area away from this same contaminate source.

* Handling implant cartridges and guns with dirty, manure-covered or bloody hands is another important checkpoint. Hands and implant guns should be cleaned regularly; filth should not be allowed to accumulate.

* Disinfect implant needles between use by using a sponge and disinfectant. Dipping the needle in antiseptic can disinfect, and wiping the needle with a sponge can remove any physical debris. The sponge and tray on which it rests should be cleaned and the disinfecting solution changed when dirty.

The sponge and the disinfectant are critical to contamination associated with "skipping off" the back side of the ear. Skipping off occurs when the needle slides down the back of the ear as the operator attempts to insert the needle subcutaneously. This sliding motion can cause the needle's bevel areas to fill with debris from the ear's surface. A wad of debris can then be inserted ahead of the implant when the needle successfully penetrates the skin.

Dragging the needle across the sponge with the beveled side down will physically clean out the needle bevel. But, the tendency to skip off the back side of the ear can be reduced with a sharp needle, proper animal restraint and slowing down the gun operator.

* Though it's desirable to place the implant in the same position in the ear each time, the operator should avoid implanting through clumps of manure on the ear. If the ears are wet or dirty, wipe the ear with a disposable disinfected paper towel or scrape the site dry with the back edge of a knife blade before inserting the needle into the ear.

When the pellets of a multi-pellet implant are deposited in a cluster rather than in a line, the surface area of the pellets in direct contact with the subcutaneous veins or capillaries can be reduced. This is commonly called "bunching," and it decreases absorption rate of the product.

Crushing of implants occurs when the operator fails to retract the implant needle as the trigger is being depressed. Properly administered, the trigger depression deposits the implant pellets in the subcutaneous groove formed from the needle's insertion.

If the needle isn't retracted approximately the length of the actual implant prior to the trigger release process of the gun, pellets are bunched and/or crushed against the extreme front portion of the needle-formed groove.

Crushing greatly increases the exposed surface area of the pellets and results in an increased rate of absorption of the active ingredients. Accelerated ingredient uptake is a potential cause of such side effects as bullers in steers.

Bunching and/or crushing of implants with a forced injector-type gun can be eliminated by properly retracting the needle or by switching to a retractable needle implant device. Such a gun allows the needle to be inserted to the hub and held as the trigger is depressed. Depression of the trigger pushes an implant into the needle, and a spring inside the gun automatically retracts the needle from around the implant. No pressure that could result in bunching or crushing is placed on the implant.

Bunching and/or crushing can also occur when an animal is improperly restrained and able to swing its head while the implant needle is held in position. The needle forms a triangular pocket rather than the linear tract that implant pellets are normally deposited. Uneven absorption of the active ingredient results.

Properly implanted calves and stockers increases growth rate from 5-15%. Simply educating the processing crew on proper administration of implants is essential to get maximum anabolic (growth) response from implant products.

Ron Torell, Ben Bruce and Bill Kvasnicka, DVM, are Nevada beef specialists.