Implanting grid-marketed cattle

Quick facts

  • Implants are only one factor affecting quality grade.

  • You can’t change the genetics of cattle coming into the feedlot, but you can affect its environment in the feedyard.

  • Focus on feedlot performance for profit.

  • Don’t hurt performance any more than needed to improve quality grade when using implants.

Grids changed the jobs of feedyard managers and owners. Feedyard managers must maximize profit based on what cattle look like under their hides.

Factors that affect quality grade and implant plans can affect how cattle “fit” various grids. But usually, the factors that make cattle the most profitable in a cash market are the same in a grid.

What affects quality grade?

Genetics

Genetics and the environment determine how an animal looks. You can’t change a steer’s genetics and you can only affect his environment in the feedlot. Implants can impact how a steer grades and performs, but it’s only a small piece of the puzzle.

Calf care

Calf health and nutrition greatly impacts marbling. Marbling is set early in a calf’s life, thus proper care is essential for grading ability at the packing plant. Calves on energy-based creep feed or that stay healthy before reaching the feedlot have a better chance of grading than calves that were sick a couple times.  

The later you castrate a bull calf after weaning, the less likely the steer has to grade.

Gender

Heifers will generally be further along their growth curve than steers of the same age. Thus, heifers tend to be fatter than steers of the same age. More fat usually means more marbling, which is why heifers tend to grade better than steers. This is also why implant use tends to be more aggressive in heifers.

Nutrition

Seldom do genetics alone yield a grade 1 carcass. Dr. Mike Hubbert looked at 9,000 head of Northern calves. He found that calves must be fed to a yield grade 3 before grading choice or prime. A 2001 study at Kansas State University reported like results.

Providing enough protein for rumen microbes may help maximize marbling potential.

Deworming

Deworming cattle improves the quality grade.

Chill factors

The longer the carcass chills, the more “bloom” shows up on the ribeye. This “bloom” gives the impression of more marbling.

Implants

As grid marketing became more common, development resulted in new implants that may fit better in the grid marketing program.

Implanting

Implant types

Estrogen-only

The Texas Tech implant database says that on average, estrogen-only implants increase average daily gain (ADG) by about 12 percent. These implants reduce feed to gain ratio (F/G) by about 7 percent compared to nonimplanted steers. Duckett and Andrae 2001 saw like results. They also reported that estrogen-only implants increase hot carcass weight (HCW) by about 3 percent compared to nonimplanted cattle.

Trenbolone Acetate (TBA) with estrogen

Trenbolone Acetate (TBA) with estrogen results in an enhanced effect in cattle performance. The Texas Tech implant database suggests these implants improve ADG and F/G by 20 and 7 percent compared to steers without implants. These results agree with Duckett and Andrae 2001, who also reported that estrogen/TBA implants increase HCW by 4.75 percent compared to cattle without implants.

Fort Dodge Animal Health and Intervet developed new medium dose TBA implants that can help fine-tune implant use in cattle for grid-based marketing. These implants can help improve cattle performance more than estrogen-only implants while keeping the grade of estrogen-only implants.

Implant effects on marbling and quality grade

Implants can affect marbling and quality grade in cattle. The Texas Tech database suggests that implants can reduce percent choice carcasses by the following.

  • Estrogen-only: 9 percentage points

  • Estrogen/TBA: 11 percentage points

Performance with these implants often offsets reduced quality grade in grid marketing plans. A more aggressive implant plan results in:

  • Improved daily gain

  • Improved cost of gain

  • Generally an increase in sale weight

Carcass weight greatly affects profit when marketing cattle on a grid. From an individual feedlot standpoint, more weight usually means more profit, especially with low feed prices. The packing industry likely accepted this as well.

Over time, carcass weights have gone up prior to discounts. In some grids, carcass weights up to 1000 pounds are accepted before being discounted.

Feedlot performance

Higher performance means a higher profit in most cases. Moderate implant plans are common. These compromise performance to ensure cattle grade or to maximize quality grade.  

Often, feedyards give up performance for quality grade. Meeting the packer’s desired carcass merit is important but it must make financial sense for the feedyard. Grid-related premiums and discounts usually don’t affect cattle profit more than performance.

Research

Researchers are learning how implants work and how they affect marbling. The goal is to maximize live cattle performance and limit harm to quality grade.

South Dakota State University, the University of Nebraska and Fort Dodge Animal Health looked at implants in feedlot cattle. Their work shows you can improve quality grade without harming feedlot performance. This is done by delaying the first feedlot implant until cattle adjust to a higher nutrition plain and eat more feed.

Many revaccinate calf-feds at 10 to 21 days in the feedlot. This makes implanting easier than with yearling cattle that normally aren’t brought back for revaccination.

Yearling program

You can use a low-dose estrogen implant up front in a yearling program. Yearlings don’t face the problems calves do when entering the feedlot. Newly received yearlings usually don’t have trouble with energy intakes. Thus, using a low-dose estrogen implant up front in yearlings may improve performance, without harming quality grade.

Pay out

Know the pay-out window to help maximize cattle performance and reduce harming the grade. Letting an implant “run out” is more harmful at the end of the feeding period than at the start. Cattle are least efficient at the end, but are relatively efficient and have lower energy intakes at the start.

Aggressive implants

The better the bunk care, the sooner a feedyard can get cattle eating. This allows for a more energy rich diet, which leads to better cattle care overall. Thus feedyards can be more aggressive with implanting.

Implants require energy to work. If implants are too aggressive for the cattle’s energy intake, there will be little or no added performance benefit compared to less aggressive implants. Work with your nutritionist and veterinarian to develop an implant plan that best fits your goals and care.

Court Campbell, Fort Dodge Animal Health

Reviewed in 2018

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