SASKATOON — Producing beef without implants costs more, according to a study at the University of Saskatchewan, but those animals could attract a premium depending on when the cattle go to market.
Janelle Smith, a master’s student, said her study, which wrapped up in mid-January, found that the cost per head to raise cattle without implants increased by $60 to $140. The difference depends on the weight at which the cattle enter the finishing phase.
“This is simply due to increase in days on feed, which leads to about a 15-percent higher feed cost, as well as cost of yardage,” Smith told the Saskatchewan Beef Industry Conference.
She said the estimated higher cost per pound of gain for non-implanted or natural animals was five cents for cattle in her study that went straight to a finishing diet, 19 cents for cattle that were backgrounded and then finished, and 14 cents for lighter weight calves that were kept over winter, grassed and then finished.
Smith’s study used 240 steers entering the Livestock and Forage Centre of Excellence at 650, 550 or 450 lb. The groups of heavy, medium and light weights were then randomly divided to go into either the natural or conventional trial.
She said the only treatment differences were that the conventional cattle received Draxxin upon arrival and then hormone implants.
The heavy conventional group reached the target slaughter weight of 1,400 lb. 50 days sooner than their natural counterparts, gaining 20 percent faster and with 15 percent better feed efficiency.
The medium conventional group that entered the feedlot in spring reached slaughter weight 70 days sooner, gained 30 percent faster and had 20 percent better feed efficiency.
And the light conventional group that went to the finishing diet off grass reached slaughter weight 59 days sooner, 35 percent faster and with 25 percent better feed efficiency.
Smith said there is more to cost out, considering the study just ended, but the possibility of premiums for natural cattle is there.
Using Canfax fed steer prices, Smith said the heavy and medium natural steers earned about $14 per hundredweight less than the conventional steers.
“However, the opposite was true for those long yearlings,” she said. “The naturals going at a later time actually results in about a $13 increase in price.”
This suggests that the time when animals go to market is a major consideration in determining profitability, she said.
“When we factored in the market price for determining our premium for the animals, the heavy naturals would need probably about a 17-cent-per-lb. premium over their conventional counterparts,” Smith said. “The natural mediums would need about a 30-cents-per-lb. premium and due to (the fact) that those light naturals go to market at a time of year that was actually advantageous, they have about a two cent a lb. advantage.”
Smith cautioned that this study involved animals of similar genetics bought at the same time. Small changes in when the animals are bought and when they go to market will change the economics “dramatically.”
Meanwhile, Gabriel Ribeiro, the Saskatchewan Beef Industry Chair and professor at the University of Saskatchewan, presented some results of a four-year study from the federal research centre at Lethbridge that examined the effects of different types of growth promotants.
This study ended in September and included three treatments each of heifers and steers.
None of the groups in this study were natural: the control groups had Monensin, one group of each had hormone implants and a group of heifers had the growth-enhancing hormone MGA.
In the final two years of the study, the steer group with implants also received Optaflexx, a ractopamine product.
“The idea was to have a very aggressive implant strategy,” said Ribeiro, because other researchers were also looking at the effects of the hormones in the environment.
All were fed the same diets in the backgrounding and finishing phases for all four years.
The study found that implants increased total body weight by 13 percent for heifers and 21.8 percent for steers, compared to the control, and improved rib eye area.
Heifers that received the MGA were about six percent heavier than the control.
Dry matter intake was greater for implanted cattle, nearly seven percent for heifers and 11.5 percent more for steers.
There was no difference in dry matter intake between the control and MGA heifers.
Average daily gains were 16 percent greater for implanted heifers and 19 percent higher for implanted steers. The MGA heifers saw average daily gain of about eight percent higher.
Looking at gain to feed, similar improvements are seen, Ribeiro said. However, the gains were higher for heifers than for steers.
When dollars and cents were applied to the results, Ribeiro estimated implants added about $130 per head to the return for heifers and $140 per head for steers.
MGA added $85 per head per heifer.
“Those are big numbers,” he said. “If you have a 10,000 head feedlot and start to multiply you can see why we use those products.”
Looking at the two-year results of the implants plus Optaflexx in steers, the study found an additive effect.
“Optaflexx increased carcass weight and also increased rib eye area,” he said. “It’s about a 3.2 percent increase in carcass weight.”
The use of Optaflexx on top of implants added an extra $40 per head to returns.
“Those technologies really pay off in the end,” said Ribeiro. “That’s why the industry uses them.”
Smith added that these technologies have been widely studied since the 1980s.
“It’s not exactly groundbreaking science,” said Smith, but it’s important to put numbers to western Canadian systems especially as producers look to marketing options.