Stocker producers can have their cake and eat it, too, with implants and ionophores.

“The beauty of implants and ionophores is that the mode of action for each is completely unrelated, so the benefits from them are additive; using one doesn’t compromise the benefit of using the other,” emphasizes Jason Sawyer, Ph.D, associate professor and associate head for operations at Texas A&M University’s McGregor Research Center.

In a recent study at the University of Arkansas (UA) steers grazing wheat pasture and receiving an implant and Rumensin® gained 39 lbs. more than steers not receiving the implant or ionophore.

“There was no interaction between Rumensin supplementation and implant indicating that the use of these technologies is additive,” says Paul Beck, Ph.D., UA Extension livestock and forage specialist who was one of the researchers.     

Implant Value Increases With Value of Gain

“On today’s price spread and added gain, the return on investment (ROI) in a single implant is on the order of 1,200%,” Sawyer says.

That’s if you count labor and a facilities charge for a total cost of around $2/head. Relative only to the cost of the implant, Sawyer explains the ROI is more like 2,000% (basis 40 lbs. of added weight per head at a value of gain (VOG) of $1.10-$1.15/lb. or $44-$46/head)

“The other way of looking at it is that if I decide not to implant, then I need to be able to recover $40/head by some other means,” Sawyer says. “Realistically, I’m not sure there’s a way to do that today.”

The active ingredients used in implants increase synthesis of muscle tissue, usually accompanied by reduced deposition of body fat, which increases growth rate and improves feed efficiency.

“Implants work to increase muscle mass and decrease fat. It’s more energetically efficient to add muscle than fat,” Beck explains. “Implants shift the body composition to that of a younger animal, which gains more efficiently.”

Depending on the research summary you look at, implants increase average daily gain (ADG) in growing cattle 10-20% and improve feed efficiency by 8-10%.

“Implants continue to provide the most return per dollar invested of any technology we have,” explains Gerald Horn, Ph.D., Oklahoma State University (OSU) beef cattle nutritionist and stocker specialist. In OSU wheat pasture trials, he explains response to implants is consistently 0.33 lbs./day. During a typical wheat grazing season of 110 days or so, that’s an extra 36 lbs.

“Unless someone is trying to produce cattle for a niche market, it’s almost a no-brainer to use implants,” says Ryan Reuter, assistant professor in beef cattle research at the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation in Ardmore, OK.

Sawyer points out high corn prices and feedlot cost of gain – a fair mirror of stocker VOG – makes implanting worth even more.

Ionophores Provide Pounds and Coccidiosis Protection

“Cattle receiving an ionophore either gain more on the same amount of feed or gain the same on less feed,” Sawyer explains. “Generally speaking, we expect an increased rate of gain of 8-12%, so maybe an extra 20-25 lbs., in a typical turn of stocker calves.”

Ionophores are antimicrobial compounds that inhibit the growth of rumen organisms that disrupt rumen fermentation and function; they help capture more feed energy and decrease protein erosion.

In OSU wheat pasture trials, Horn explains cattle receiving supplement with Rumensin consistently gain 0.15-0.20 lbs./day more than cattle receiving supplement without Rumensin. “That’s with control cattle typically gaining 2.25 lbs./day,” he adds.

Rumensin is also approved by FDA for the control and prevention of coccidiosis.  

Reuter typically recommends that stocker producers utilize ionophores, but explains the logistics of delivering ionophores to the cattle make it a more complicated decision than implanting.

BRD Control Leverages Growth Technology

Since the benefits of using metaphylaxis to control bovine respiratory disease (BRD) are proportional to rate of gain, Sawyer explains it is difficult to demonstrate its additive nature in research. At the very least, he says BRD control is multiplicative.

“If I am using the other technologies, the benefit of BRD control increases,” Sawyer says. He explains that cattle that don’t get sick make the most use of implants and ionophores.

“With higher morbidity due to BRD, one would expect less response to growth-promoting technologies such as implants and ionophores because more nutrients would  be directed to the immune system to mount an immune response to the infection,” Horn explains. “With BRD control, the weight gain response to implants and ionophores should be larger.”

Though deciding whether or not to use BRD control on a particular set of calves involves a number of variables – all those things that add up to the risk profile – Sawyer stresses that it’s fairly simple to calculate the value of calf health.

“Based on a number of studies, I expect that if a calf gets sick just one time when I own him, his ADG will be 15% less,” Sawyer explains. “If I know that current VOG is $1.10/lb., and that the morbidity rate of a typical load of light-to-mid-weight, put-together, plainer type cattle is likely to be 50% in my operation, then I know instead of 2 lbs. of gain/day, I will expect 1.7 lbs. gain on half of the calves. Across the entire group, rather than an average of 2 lbs., it will be 1.85 lbs. (7.5% less).

Apply that to a typical turn of stocker cattle – adding 300 lbs. in 150 days – and morbidity cost is about 23 lbs. or a little more than $25/head (basis $1.10 VOG).

And, that’s not including the mortality rate. In the enterprise budgeting Sawyer uses, he also accounts for the estimated change in case fatality rate he expects from using or foregoing BRD control.