Cattle implants

Daryl DeVries gives a calf in-ear implants during a cattle handling workshop at the Opportunities Farm near Lennox, S.D., as farm manager Matt Loewe prepares medicines in the background.

Implants have a long history of use in the beef cattle industry. The first commercial implant was introduced in 1957 and they have been proven safe and effective numerous times.

Implants work by increasing circulating levels of somatotropin and insulin-like growth-factor 1. This causes an increase in the secretion of growth hormone, which increases muscle growth. Implants are one of the top items to use to increase revenue in your feedlot animals or calves. When you get right down to it, the most important factor when marketing cattle is pounds.

Implants can increase frame size and are dose dependent. The response of the implant is due to DNA, nutrition, and stage of growth, and most importantly technique. Impacts are temporary with duration ranging from 45-220 days. Once you take away the implant the animal will eventually revert to its original DNA potential. Unless calves are marketed to a program that prohibits the use of implants, nursing calves intended for sale should be implanted prior to weaning. They should not reduce carcass quality or feedlot performance. There is no negative impact to implant healthy calves greater than 1 month of age as long as they are healthy and adequate nutrition is available.

Implants will not work when cattle are sick, administered incorrectly, when overdosed, or when there is a severe lack of nutrition. Technique is the no. 1 priority after choosing the appropriate type of implant. If the implant was placed incorrectly then it can either not work at all or cause undesirable effect such as bulling or low-quality grade. Let’s review the basics. Using a clean, sharp implant device, place the implant under the skin in the middle one-third of the ear away from any tag holes or previous implant locations. It’s a good practice to always check the ear for the implant and pinch the opening shut with your fingers before you let the animal out of the chute. If any dirt or fecal material come in contact with the needle, it can cause an abscess, inactivating the implant. An easy fix to prevent infection is wipe the needle with chlorhexidine between each calf or when your needle misses and slides across the skin. I find soaking a high-density paint roller cover with chlorohexidine and distilled water in a paint roller pan to be very effective. You just wipe the needle on the roller and let it sit until the next animal enters the chute. I do turn the roller a quarter turn frequently to ensure the needle is getting cleaned effectively. A bur on the needle can cause damage to the ear and can score the coating on the implant making it release too much product. Too much product at once can hurt quality grade and cause bulling, and reduce overall effectiveness in average daily gain. If the coating is damaged, such as pellets get bunched up in the ear, there is an increase of excess product in a short amount of time, it reduces effectiveness and increases chances of bulling. Also, if the pellets are bunched up, there is less ear and implant contact changing the absorption rate. You should never implant an animal that already has an effective implant in place. Doing so would increase the amount of product the calf is getting.

Think about your own cattle, do you experience more bulling than others? Are you not satisfied with your ADG? If so, you may need check yourself when implanting cattle. It may come down to plain ol’ operator error.

Questions? Send email to Eric Knock, DVM, at or send mail to 321 E. 14th St., Miller, SD 57362. Eric Knock owns and operates Prairie View Vet Clinic in Miller, Redfield, Wessington Springs and Highmore, S.D.

Sign up for our Weekly newsletter

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.