For cow-calf producers, implanting preweaning is a highly cost-effective method to boost production. Typically administered when calves are between two to four months old, during the suckling phase, preweaning implants coincide with cows preparing for breeding and the transition to summer grazing. Research indicates that implanting calves during this phase can increase the average daily gain of steer calves by approximately 0.10 pounds per day, while heifer calves experience a slightly better gain of 0.12 pounds per day. It is worth noting that implanting heifer calves at birth may decrease the pregnancy rate of replacement heifers by 30 to 50%. However, implanting heifers between 1 and 3 months of age does not impact their future pregnancy rates.
An analysis conducted by Kansas State University and Merck Animal Health, examining calf sales through the Superior Livestock Auction, explored the traits of load lots of calves that influenced sales prices. Surprisingly, this analysis revealed that implanting did not have a significant effect on sale price. Implanting calves preweaning can result in a 10 to 20-pound increase in sale weight, which translates to a value of $27 to $55 per head. Failing to capitalize on this increase means leaving money on the table, equivalent to a $5 to $10 per hundred discount on the calves sold. Astonishingly, only 20% of producers surveyed in Oklahoma reported implanting their calves preweaning.
While some producers choose to keep bull calves intact until weaning instead of early castration, it is important to recognize the advantages of implanting steer calves. Humorously referred to as the "Oklahoma Implant" in other beef-producing regions, the notion that natural hormones produced in the testicles enhance average daily gain and weaning weight has been debunked by numerous research trials. Implanting steer calves has consistently demonstrated faster weight gain and higher weaning weights compared to bull calves. Bull calves produce minimal testosterone until they reach puberty, which occurs much later than the typical weaning age.
Castration stress at weaning can hinder post-weaning growth potential and the calf's ability to combat diseases commonly associated with weaning and marketing. Cattle buyers acknowledge the disparity in post-weaning performance between bulls and steers, evident from the $12 to $15 per hundred premiums offered for steers over intact bull calves. Producers aiming to maximize the value of male calves at weaning should consider early castration at birth or between two to four months of age, coupled with the use of implants approved for nursing calves.
Implanting calves before weaning proves to be a cost-effective strategy, elevating weaning weights for both steers and heifers while having minimal impact on the reproduction rates of replacement heifers. Multiple products are available, specifically labeled for use in preweaned calves. Choosing the right product at the appropriate time can generate returns of $25 to $50 for every dollar invested in implants, helping offset the production cost increases experienced in recent years. By embracing preweaning implants, cow-calf producers can optimize production and profitability in their operations.