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Add 20 pounds to weaning weights

07/27/2011 @ 11:05am

Would you spend a buck to make $20? Of course. Then why don't you implant your young calves with a growth promotant?

That's a question two implant manufacturers were asking producers recently. Both made the point that implanting calves in the first few weeks of their lives is one of the more sure bets in the cow/calf business.

“I don't know of any other thing you do that will give you that kind of return,” says David Yates, a nutritionist with Intervet Schering-Plough. Its implant is Ralgro. It is approved for cattle of all ages and costs about $1 to give one calf a 36-mg implant.

Yates says you should do the implant at the time of castration or whenever you work calves (around 2 or 3 months of age). The earlier the better, because it gives the implant more time to work.

It's really designed for steer calves, but it works on heifer calves, too. “You can use it on heifers, and it won't ruin them for breeding,” Yates says. “However, it might delay their time to reach puberty.”

The response is very consistent, he adds. Implanted calves will be 20 to 25 pounds heavier at weaning. At today's market, that could be worth $1.50 a pound, so the extra weight is worth as much as $30 for the $1 investment. “We conservatively say it is a 20:1 return, but at these prices, it's really more,” he says.

Why don't cattle producers do it? Yates believes there are likely several reasons. “One, it's hard to see the weight advantage of implants because weaning weights are highly variable anyway. And for some, it's just the procedure they're not used to, which may seem like a hassle to them.”

Implanting can probably be done in less than a minute. It does require cleaning the ear with a brush, then injecting with an implant gun (like the one pictured at left) under the skin in the middle half of the ear.

“Some people just don't like to use implants. That's fine. But if you aren't opposed to implants, this works,” says Yates. “And if you are going to keep the calves after weaning for the stocker phase, I'd implant them again with an implant intended for stocker cattle. You can get the same kind of return for that one, too.”

Same song, second verse

Pfizer Animal Health veterinarians, who market a product called Synovex C for calves, tell the same story. Mitch Blanding says to implant that product after calves are 45 days old, and it will yield added gains for 80 to 90 days. He says it will give at least a 20-pound advantage at weaning. Again, the investment cost is about $1.

“Our best estimate is that no more than 25% of calves get an implant at that stage. It was higher a few years ago,” Blanding says. “Look at it this way. For every 20 to 25 calves you raise, the extra weight is like weaning an extra calf.”

Synovex C can be given to steers and heifers. Blanding says it's best to castrate the bulls before you give it to them, because intact bull calves don't get a benefit.

Tests show the extra weight gain lasts throughout the life of the animals, especially if they are implanted in the stocker and feedlot phases, too. “There's a lot of money being left on the table if you don't implant calves,” says Blanding. 

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