While growth implants give a strong return on investment, they aren't miracle workers, especially in the stocker phase.
David Lalman, Oklahoma State University Extension beef cattle specialist, says, "the response of the implant is related to performance. The more nutrients the calf is getting, the more economical the implant is."
He explains, "In our country, if stocker cattle are wintered on native grass and a little supplement, they are lucky if they gain half a pound to a pound a day."
A 10% to 12% greater average daily gain for implanted cattle isn't much on that small rate, and as a result, it probably wouldn't make sense economically to implant under those conditions.
"Implant timing and aggressiveness should be timed with forage growth and quality. Consequently, most stocker producers will implant their calves just prior to turnout on spring grass or winter wheat pasture," he explains.
In Chandler and Callie Akins' operation, they boost preconditioning gains in several ways. In addition to implanting steers, they feed corn silage and dried distillers grains at a rate of 2% body weight per head per day on a dry matter basis. This is in addition to providing Tifton 85 bermudagrass grazing.
Since the weaned calves stay on their Nashville, Georgia, operation during the summer, Chandler says, "We've tried to minimize heat stress by building more towable shade structures." They are diligent about fly control, too.
In addition, the brother-sister team starts with quality genetics. Their commercial calves are normally sired by their home-raised bulls, which are selected for structure, moderate birthweights, balanced growth and optimum grade and yield.
Even with the mix of solid nutrition and quality genetics, the Akinses say they are careful not to push the calves. "We're not trying to maximize gain; we've got to leave some profit and growth for the people down the supply chain."
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