In Mark Hilton’s column on fly control last month, he briefly touched on the value and efficiencies of growth-promoting implants. Fewer than 40% of cow-calf operations use implants in their cattle, which are one of the few things guaranteed to be profitable.
In fact, the time spent to administer implants is some of the best hourly pay producers can receive. Heck, it’s some of the best hourly pay about anyone will receive, unless you’re Bill Gates. So it’s a mystery to me why this technology isn’t used more.
Of course, there are consumers who desire their beef to be “hormone-free,” but that segment is certainly not 60% of our customer base.
One of the reasons often cited for non-use of implants centers around producers’ desire to provide beef for the hormone-free market. Yet many of these producers market their cattle through traditional channels, such as auction markets. I’m not aware of any purveyors of hormone-free beef who fill their needs by going to the local livestock auction and waiting for the auctioneer to announce, “These cattle have not been implanted.”
I’ve studied the hormone-free supply chain, and, as a practicing veterinarian, I’ve overseen the health of many hormone-free cattle. I’m unaware of any program that doesn’t require arrangements to be made before the calves destined for that channel are born. So, if a producer is hoping to crack into the hormone-free market, arrangements must be made long before the cattle show up at the sale barn.
Implanting calves requires some added labor, but the benefits easily offset the extra effort. And in order to reap the full benefits, care must be taken to make sure the implant can offer its full value.
The importance of cleanliness can’t be overstated. Keep your implants clean by storing them in clean, dust-free containers, such as a resealable plastic bag. Make sure the implant needle is cleaned between implanting each calf; and if the needle skips off an ear, re-clean it.
Simply dipping the needle in a disinfectant isn’t good enough. Most disinfectants require 10 minutes or more of contact time before they can kill any bacteria present. So while it’s important to use a disinfectant, it’s equally important to actually wipe the needle on a sponge or cloth that is soaked in the disinfectant. This mechanical action of removing bacteria from the needle most likely provides as much benefit as the disinfectant.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t discuss the human health implications of growth-promoting hormones in beef. First off, let me say that any consumer who wants to eat hormone-free beef should do so; and I think that our production chains should provide it. It’s more expensive to produce, and therefore demands a higher retail price, but consumers who desire the product should have the opportunity to purchase it.
But the fact is that using growth-promoting hormones in beef production adds so little “extra” hormone to the final product that the difference is miniscule. Be that as it may, there are many detractors who want to terrify consumers with the word “hormone.” Rather than review the numbers on hormone levels, I will direct you to this link on hormones in beef, and point out that even people on a vegetarian-based diet can consume levels of estrogen hundreds of times higher than those in implanted beef.
Implanted calves will provide an extra 15-30 lbs. in weaning weight. This will add up fast in today’s feeder-calf market. At $2/lb., this results in an extra $30-$60/head. Consult with your herd health veterinarian for recommendations on implant timing and technique, as well as which products to use — especially as they pertain to implanting potential replacement heifers. Simply put, there are very few opportunities to garner the return on investment that implanting cattle provides.
Dave Sjeklocha, DVM, is director of animal health for Cattle Empire LLC, of Satanta, KS. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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