If someone was offering a deal promising that for every $1 invested there would be a $25 payoff four to six months later, how many takers would there be? Sounds too good to be true, but that is exactly the payoff from using implants on nursing calves this year.

Why use growth promoting implants?

Growth promoting implants are one of the most proven and effective technologies available to beef producers. As long as the calf can obtain sufficient nutrients to support the extra growth, using one of the approved implants (Component E-C, Ralgro, or Synovex-C) should result in an additional 20 to 30 more pounds at weaning. Suppose a non-implanted calf that weighs 500 pounds is worth $1.75 per pound this fall, or $875 per head. Implanting would result in a calf weighing 525 pounds at $1.72 per pound (10 cent slide per hundred pounds), or $903 per head. Considering that calf values will likely be much less than 2014 or 2015, the extra $28 per head could make a big difference this year.

Many producers pass up this technology believing that they will make up the difference in price premiums. In the earlier example, the non-implanted calves would need to bring $180.60 per hundred pounds to have the same dollar value as the heavier, implanted calves. Perhaps that premium will be there, if the right buyer is in the seats and that changes in the supply and demand for non-implanted calves do not result in reduced or eliminated price premiums. The sale records from more than 2.5 million calves sold on Superior Livestock Auction show that there has not been a significant price difference between implanted and non-implanted calves. It is a much more certain bet to count on the pounds being there by using implants.

Implant timing

Implants need to be given at the proper time to be the most effective. Research from SDSU has shown that calves from mature cows respond best when implanted early; calves from young cows should be implanted at preconditioning time for best results (Table 1). Those differences are due to differences in nutrient intake by the calves. Mature cows produce more milk; therefore their calves respond more when implanted earlier compared to younger cows. By August the response to the implant is driven by nutrient intake from forage. For that reason calves from young cows show a greater response when implanting is delayed, provided that there is adequate forage or feed resources to support that growth, compared to implanting those calves earlier in the season.

Table 1. Impact of implant timing and age of dam on the implant response vs. controls (lbs. /head)


Implant Timing

Age of Dam



Under 4 years






Source: R.H. Pritchard, A.R. Taylor, S.M. Holt, K.W. Bruns, and H.M. Blalock, 2015. SDSU Beef Report 2015-08

Other considerations

Other considerations for using implants on nursing calves include:

  • Don’t use on newborn calves.
  • Don’t use on calves that are sick.
  • The general recommendation has been to not use in replacement heifers. While Ralgro, Synovex-C, and Component E-C are labeled for use in replacement heifer calves, implanting can result in reduced pregnancy rates. To avoid any potential loss in fertility, or difficulty in marketing heifer calves as replacements, the most conservative approach would be to avoid implanting replacement heifers.
  • However, implanting heifer calves during the suckling phase that are unlikely to be retained or marketed as replacements would increase ranch revenue.
  • Finally, follow proper implanting procedures. With a potential return of about $20 per head or more, it is worth taking the time to do the job correctly every time.