Growth implants provide a great economic benefit to the cattle industry by increasing growth and feed efficiency.
Their safety has been proven, and grade may be affected only slightly less or not at all if the right program is selected.
At a time when the world needs more animal protein for food, implants have become a necessary and accepted part of the beef production chain.
Implants will return $20 to $30 to producers for every $1 invested, depending on the market, type of implant and length of feeding period. As a result, they are routine at all large feedlots.
However, to get the best bang for the buck, producers should monitor their implants to ensure they are performed properly.
Most pharmaceutical companies that manufacture implants do implant audits and will teach feedlots to monitor their own success. Feedlot consultants will also monitor implant application rates for their clients.
Why is this necessary?
We may have no idea if our processing crews are doing a good a job if we don’t check or watch them. It doesn’t hurt to do this quarterly in a large feedlot.
Implant audits involve checking 20 implanted calves per pen three weeks after implanting to assess the success of the implanting program.
The audit is accurate, repeatable and can be used as a teaching tool because problems are visible and palpable.
This is not about laying blame because processing crews need to process many cattle with several procedures and shots in a short time. Small changes to implanting techniques might yield better implant placement and may take little or no extra time. Time can be a precious commodity to a processing crew.
Several problems are commonly found during audits.
We have all heard that the biggest implanting mistake is not to implant in the first place. This is true.
The next biggest loss is failing to get the implant in the ear. This can happen in three ways:
- When first learning the technique, it is common to puncture through the ear and deposit the pellets on the ground. If this happens, simply re-implant. Given the benefits of implanting, it is worth taking another shot at it.
- Finished cartridges are another problem. If there is no resistance when you pull the trigger, you have shot a blank out of the gun. You must reload the cartridge or advance the gun and try again. If careful, you can even put it in the same hole that was created the first time. Make sure the guns are working well and the needles sharp and clean and use the disinfectant trays that are provided to keep the needles clean.
- Pulling the gun back too quickly will cause pellets to fall out of the needle hole. Even a few lost pellets will decrease gain because concentration levels are affected. This is a common complaint even with experienced crews. It is probably caused by worrying about crushing the ear. Get in the habit of running a finger over the implant site and needle hole and squeezing it shut to detect the poorly placed implants and take measures to correct it immediately. The biggest thing with abscesses is the pellets have a tendency to work out and we lose their effect.
Longer duration implants have more pellets so the needle must be placed to the hub to insert all the pellets. Most guns have either a retractable needle or in the case of the Revlor gun, a simple metal hoop that pushes the ear off the needle as the trigger is pulled.
The design of most of the newer implant guns has mostly eliminated the crushing problems we experienced years ago.
Implant checks will also determine whether the most ideal implant was not used. Implant selection is a real science.
Selection depends on the type of cattle (British or continental), days on feed, diet and whether it’s a steer or heifer. Selection also depends on whether the producer’s main concern is growth or grade.
Discounts for heavy carcasses are almost a thing of the past so growth is generally our prime concern. Plan the implant program for your operation.
A few minutes spent formulating a plan with implant timelines can return significant benefits at slaughter.
Implant checks also identify implants that weren’t put in their ideal location. This has nothing to do with the implanter’s skill. Rather, it is the result of a lack of available space in the middle of the ears, which is where ear tags are placed.
It forces producers to put the implant higher up, which is the next ideal spot. Alas, if this is a second implant, that area is usually taken as well.
In many cases, new, longer-lasting implants have eliminated the need to re-implant, which greatly reduces this problem.
You have to go higher if the ideal spot is taken, but you can also implant from both sides. Hydraulic chutes that can be run from both sides help facilitate this step. Walking back and forth in front of cattle is not only time consuming but also dangerous, so once they start, most crews stick to one side unless the ear is frozen or severely damaged. Then the other side is the only option.
Frozen ears are becoming much less common because of later calving.
A good processing crew and experienced implanter can return benefits in many ways, including proper implanting technique with few misses and keeping the implant gun clean and swiped each time to avoid infections.
Everyone, no matter how good they are, should always critically evaluate themselves because there is always room for improvement. We all learn something and the cattle benefit in the end.
So if you are implanting, remember to check yourself as a self-audit.
If you aren’t implanting, you should be.
Roy Lewis has a veterinary practice in Westlock, Alta. and works part time as a technical services veterinarian with Merck Animal Health.