Every Decision Has A Price

There can be a significant cost to the choice about whether to use implants.

Victoria G Myers
By  Victoria G. Myers , Progressive Farmer Senior Editor
Image by Becky Mills

Four years of sales data across 7,525 lots of cattle reveals something interesting when it comes to heifer calves: Producers are leaving a lot of money on the table. That’s based on Western Video Market data from 2014 through 2017.

Average lot size in the four-year review was 134 head, with all animals in the study out of the western states--primarily California, Nevada and Oregon. Most (80%) were ranch-raised, sold-from-the-farm calves. Calves ranged from 4-weights up to 9-weights. Sales the study focused on took place throughout the year, with the majority occurring in the summer months.

On average, just 19% (1,421) of the total sale lots (7,525) were implanted. Statistically, across the four years, there was no difference in sale price between implanted and nonimplanted cattle, even though implanted cattle received a slightly higher payout ($184.12 per cwt versus $183.03 per cwt). The difference was noteworthy for implanted heifers, however, which sold for $3.04 per cwt more through those years compared to nonimplanted heifers.

Tom Short, Zoetis associate director of outcomes research, has been studying this data. He says while there is a perception that non-hormone-treated calves always sell for more, the data isn’t backing that up.

“In fact, it tells us just the opposite,” he notes. “In the case of implanted heifers, I think what we are seeing here is that buyers know a heifer with an implant will have better growth potential. Also, he presumes that those heifers are less likely to have been around a bull, so there is less of a possibility of them being pregnant. From a buyer’s perspective, this is a positive on more than one count. It is interesting.”

Asked if programs such as USDA Non-Hormone Treated Cattle (NHTC) could make up through premiums for the lack of extra pounds an implant can yield, Short says this does not appear to be the case. Looking at NHTC cattle sold in summer 2017, 1,674 out of 2,018 total lots did not receive an implant. Only about 300 of those unimplanted lots, however, sold under an NHTC program. This means for 1,374 lots, there was neither the possibility of a premium, nor were there additional pounds to sell as a result of the use of an implant. Average gain added through the use of a calf implant is reported at 19 pounds.

“Take a 6-weight calf, and the NHTC premium was $2.25 per cwt, or about $13.50 per head,” Short notes of 2017. “Now, look at that calf with a sale price [market average] of $1.45 per cwt, or about $870. If we use the 19-pound advantage research shows us an implant is worth now ($27.55) and add that to the value of the calf, you get $897.55 for that same animal. That is about $28 more. In our current market, that more than offsets qualifying for the NHTC.”

Through the entire four years of data across 7,525 lots, a total of 1,421 lots were implanted; 6,104 were not.

Short adds he believes this data would be typical across the country. Asked if environment could reduce gains on implants, he says in drought situations, it is possible performance might be compromised, although he adds “many in the scientific community would say there is still some benefit. The implant can help you more effectively utilize the resources you have. It can make an operation more sustainable.”

The Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service notes in “Implants and Their Use in Beef Cattle Production” the use of implants is lowest in small cow/calf operations, with only 9% of those producers it surveyed using an implant in steers. Operators with more than 100 head used implants at a rate of about 37%. Implant use goes up dramatically for the stocker and feedlot phases. Heifers intended as replacements, the report notes, should be separated from stocker heifers, so implants can be used on the stockers without concerns over any impact on conception rates.

The report concludes: “Implants are one of the most cost-effective technologies available to cattle producers.” It adds a nursing calf implanted at 3 months of age and 150 days before weaning can be expected to have an increase in value of $15 to $30 per head.

For More Information:

Oklahoma Extension

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