Proper use urged for growth implants

Implants reduce the labour and carbon footprint per serving of beef, but it’s important to use them correctly

Carcass quality and thus the quality of beef can be affected by use of growth implants — for better and for worse, depending on how they are used.

Robbi Pritchard, ruminant nutritionist with South Dakota State University, gave that message at a recent Feeding Quality Forum in Amarillo, Texas, and supplemented the message at the 2019 Angus Convention in Reno, Nevada.

As quoted in a recent Certified Angus Beef newsletter, Pritchard said implants must be used properly to get full performance and product quality. His list of scenarios include:

  • Don’t sell a calf with an implant that isn’t mostly depleted. If the buyer gives another implant and basically doubles up, carcass quality will suffer.
  • Calves carried on grass should not be implanted. “You didn’t want them to grow; why give them a growth promotant?” he said.
  • If creep feeding, implant the cattle to avoid development of excess fat.
  • Don’t implant calves on weaning day. Calves struggle for a few days after weaning to take in enough calories to gain weight and cannot support an implant at that time.
  • Deworm cattle that will be implanted because internal parasites decrease feed intake.
  • Calculate the length of implant effect to ensure it doesn’t run out before intended and to avoid potential doubling up of implants.

Pritchard said implants reduce both the labour and the carbon footprint per serving of beef.

“Weight without quality is problematic, but quality without weight is unprofitable,” he said in the newsletter.

Implants, beta-agonists and ionophores are widely used in Canadian cattle feeding:

  • Ionophores are antimicrobials given in feed.
  • Implants are hormones delivered gradually from small pellets inserted in the ear.
  • Beta-agonists, delivered by the same method, are growth promotants designed to divert more blood flow to muscle development.

The use of all three is deemed safe by Health Canada, the World Health Organization and the United Nations.

Despite that, some countries, notably those in the European Union, do not accept beef from cattle given growth promotants or implants. Some consumers also express concerns about the practice, mostly connected with worry about residual hormones in beef.

Canada’s Food and Drugs Act requires that hormone implants in cattle must result in food that is safe for people to eat on a regular basis and be safe for the animals.

A Canadian study is now underway on the economic and environmental impacts of removing performance-enhancing technologies, including implants, with results expected in 2023.

A team of researchers from Agriculture Canada and various universities is examining the productivity, environmental sustainability and economic viability associated with removal of implants, beta-agonists and ionophores from common use in the beef industry.

In its description of the project, the Beef Cattle Research Council said the research team will use published research and commercial data from 30,000 feedlot records “to estimate nationally relevant production cost, productivity and carcass value impacts of removing production enhancing technologies. Results from the National Beef Quality Audit retail meat case study and consumer purchasing data from Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec will be used to assess actual consumer behaviour with respect to price, quality and production claims.”

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