Despite the proven economic power of these technologies, plenty of producers leave them sitting on the shelf. For instance, according to a survey conducted at OSU several years ago, only 59% of stocker operators surveyed implanted steers. For the subset dependent on stocker income, it was 71%.

Considering these technologies collectively, Reuter says, “Mainly, I think it comes down to seeing the additional upfront cost rather than thinking about the net return. If a producer strictly focuses on minimizing cost, they don’t consider these technologies.”

There can be sticker shock, too. Horn offers an example of free-choice mineral containing Rumensin costing $1,000/ton. That can seem extremely expensive to producers unused to providing it. But Horn points out consumption is so low that the cost per head of providing it to stocker cattle on wheat pasture (0.15 lbs./day) equates to only $8.25/head for 110 days of grazing.

“In our research, the free-choice mineral containing Rumensin has increased weight gain of wheat pasture stockers about 0.45 lb./day or 50 lbs./steer compared with cattle that were not provided any supplement. This equates to a gross return of $54/steer (50 lbs. additional weight/steer x $1.25/lbs. value of weight gain) minus $8.25/steer for the Rumensin-containing mineral).

For producers who use one of the technologies but not the others when they could, Beck explains, “I think some people are resistant to thinking they will get the full benefit of both technologies. It seems almost too good to be true. But, it is true.”

Moreover, Sawyer explains, “If I turn out a set of calves and implant all of them, I have no basis for comparison.”

“If your calves weigh 30 lbs. less than they could have at the end of the grazing season, you don’t necessarily recognize that,” Reuter says. “You never saw it, so you don’t miss it.”

For producers skeptical about the economic power of implants, Sawyer suggests implanting half a set of calves and giving them a different-colored ear tag than the non-implanted ones. Weigh each group separately coming off pasture.

“Convince yourself with our own data what it’s worth to you in your own operation,” Sawyer says. He adds that Extension personnel and representatives of companies selling implants can help producers structure such a comparison.

Focus on Net Return

“There is a segment of producers leaving money on the table by not using these technologies,” Reuter says. “One conclusion that came out of research we conducted at the Noble Foundation last fall is that producers should evaluate the use of these technologies independently from each other, then pick and choose those that will work for them, knowing they can use the technologies together and receive the benefit of each one.”

The research Reuter refers to directly explored whether or not the benefits from implants and ionophores were additive.

“I think stocker producers in general need to understand that they are in a margin business,” Reuter says. “They get paid for every pound they produce. Rather than minimize cost, the focus needs to be on increasing the return on investment.”

Beck agrees that “you’re better off to spend money intelligently and increase performance as much as you can. I know calves are costing a lot of money these days, but feeder cattle are pretty valuable, too. If we (stocker producers) can add bodyweight we can increase net returns a lot. These technologies are powerful when the VOG is less than it is today. Now, they’re even more powerful.”

Common Implanting Myths

An old wife’s tale used to suggest cattle needed to be gaining at one level or another before implants produced a positive response.

“Even at rates of gain of less than 1 lb./day, we see a positive response of 14-15%,” says Gerald Horn, Ph.D., Oklahoma State University (OSU) beef cattle nutritionist and stocker specialist.

Beyond the lack of comparative base or lack of available labor in some cases, one reason some producers give for not implanting is their concern that buyers will discount their calves. The notion behind this is the myth that cattle receiving implants ahead of the feedlot gain less in the feedlot and produce carcasses of lower quality.

Oklahoma State University follows cattle from wheat pasture trials through the feedlot and onto the rail each year. Carcasses of cattle implanted in the stocker phase are 31 lbs. heavier than those not receiving implants. There is no change in the marbling score or distribution of USDA Quality Grade.

“The performance in the feedlot will be the same,” says Texas A&M University’s Jason Sawyer. He suspects the fallacy has roots in the simple fact that heavier cattle are less efficient than lighter ones. That’s true whether or not cattle receive an implant.

Likewise, used alongside proper management, implants used in the stocker phase should not impact carcass tenderness. That’s another belief some producers harbor, especially when it comes to implants containing trenbolone acetate.

 “I’ve never had an order buyer tell me he would change the bid price based on whether or not the calves were implanted,” Sawyer says.

For producers still worried about discounts, he stresses that knowledge is indeed power. “Arm yourself with the data. Be able to say you’ve read the Extension and company research reports that say implanting doesn’t impact subsequent feedlot performance,” Sawyer says. “Knowledge helps you make better decisions and gives you more confidence in your decisions.”


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