Would you spend a $1 to produce an average of 20 extra pounds and an extra $30 per calf at marketing? You can if you implant your calf crop with growth promoting implants. No other management practice will increase the market weight of feeder calves as economically as implanting with a growth promotant.

Growth promoting implants have been around since the 1960s. Both research and on-farm demonstrations have shown that there is not a more efficient practice that cowcalf producers can use to increase market weight of their calf crop. Implants cost approximately $1 per head. In implant demonstrations conducted on more than 100 farms across Tennessee, the average response was an extra 21 pounds of weight compared to non-implanted calves.

What would the extra 20 pounds of weight be worth this fall? What would feeder calves sell for this fall? During the week of March 18, 450-pound steer calves were bringing $1.58, and 550 pound steers were selling for $1.50 per pound on Kentucky/Tennessee auction markets.

Nevertheless, “Heavier calves sell for less than lighter weight calves” say many producers. Heavier calves do fetch a slightly reduced market price in comparison to lighter calves; although, heavier calves bring in a “greater pile of money.” However, with the additional 20 pounds, the market price will not be significantly reduced. For purposes of illustration, let us reduce the market price for 470-pound calves to $1.57, and 570-pound calves to $1.49. With an added 20 pounds, the 470-pound calves would bring in a sum of $742.60 compared to $733.50 for 450 non-implanted calves, an increase of $31.60 per head. The heavier calves (550-570 lbs.) would bring in an extra $24.30 per head compared to those not implanted. Considering the estimated cost is $1 per implant that is a pretty good return.

According to some producers, “Steer calves do not gain as fast as bulls.” However, research has revealed that by castrating and implanting bull calves, they will gain as well as bulls, resulting in higher values when marketed.

Moreover, producers state, “It is too much trouble to work the calves just for implanting.” Implanting should be completed when other practices such as vaccinating, putting in fly tags, dehorning, castrating and deworming are carried out. Performing this package of practices at the same time reduces the cost of each. Possibly one factor limiting implanting is that most commercial cow herds are not on a short calving season. Having an organized calving season simplifies the process for implementing money making practices.

“Consumers do not want them implanted now,” is an additional criticism. Various niche markets desire calves that can be marketed as organic or natural. In this case, will you be compensated for the added value implanting would yield? In the above scenario, buyers desiring natural feeders should be willing to pay an additional $25 to $30 per head for the non-implanted animals.

Other producers are comfortable not reaping the benefits of implanting stating, “Calves are selling pretty well right now and I get a pretty good check.” However, the cost of production inputs have increased, and the margin of return can be augmented merely by implanting.

Implanting feeder calves is a practice that can produce added weight more easily and more economically than any other practice and should become routine. In fact, there has been no other time in the past five decades that implanting would’ve paid as much as it does now. For additional information concerning the benefits of implanting suckling calves, contact your local UT Extension agent.

Source: James B. Neel, Professor of Animal Science and Extension Beef Cattle Specialist, Department of Animal Science