Cost of Calfhood Implants

Matt Kumlin | | June 2013 | Edited by Jennifer Enzie and Cody Creelman


Growth implants are common practice in conventional feedlots today.  However, many cow-calf producers are not utilizing implants or may have concerns about using implants in young animals, especially heifer calves.  Implants are an easy way to increase profitability in today’s cow calf production systems.  Implants have been shown to consistently improve average daily gain (ADG) and feed efficiency.  Increased gains and efficiency are important in steer calves destined for slaughter, but what about potential replacement heifers? Do the benefits of increased gain outweigh the potential risks of decreased reproductive performance?


On average, steer calves implanted with Synovex C (Zoetis Animal Health) gain 0.11lbs/day more between implanting and weaning than un-implanted steers.  Steers implanted with Ralgro (Merck Animal Health) gained an average of 0.097-0.12 lbs/day more than un-implanted calves.  For an example of the increased profitability from implanting, consider a steer calf  implanted with either product; we can assume an increased ADG of 0.11lbs/day from implanting until weaning in this steer.  If June 1 is implanting day and October 15th is weaning day, this steer will gain an extra 0.11lbs/day for 135 days, on average.  This will equate to 14.85lbs more at weaning than an un-implanted steer.  To put this into perspective, a 600 lb implanted steer calf selling this fall for $1.58/lb will result in $23.46 more per calf than an un-implanted calf.  Therefore, in a herd of 400 cow calf pairs with 200 steers this results in an increase in net income of $4692, which would be the same as getting a $3.91/cwt premium on a 600lb steer. This covers the cost of the implant and any discount for non “natural” calves.

Heifers implanted with Synovex C, which is safe between the age of 45 and 90 days, have been shown to have a decrease in conception rate of 3.2%, with a wide range from -10% to +3%.  Heifers implanted with Ralgro had an average decrease in pregnancy rate of 0.8%, with a range of -11% to +19%. To use this information in a practical example, if the expected pregnancy rate is 90% in a group of heifers, then heifers implanted with Ralgro will have a pregnancy rate of 89.2%, rounded to 89% for the sake of actual animal numbers.  Again, using the example of the 400 head herd, but this time having 200 heifer calves that are implanted each year, we can figure out the relative cost of implanting. If only 50 heifers of the 200 are exposed to bulls, this will result in a decrease in pregnancy rate from 90% to 89%, resulting in the number of pregnant heifers decreasing from 45 to 44. The returns that will be received on the increased gain from the unexposed heifers will equate to 18.9 lbs per heifer (0.14 lbs/day x 135 days). If feeder heifers sell for $1.48/lb at weaning and the 150 feeder heifers are sold at this price, implanted heifers with the increased gain would resulted in a $4195 gross increase in returns.  Heifers respond to implants just as well or better than steers, with an average of 0.14 lb increase in ADG over un-implanted heifers when implanted with Ralgro.  This increase of ADG over a 135 day period equals 18.9lbs more weaning weight than un-implanted heifers.  It is reported that it is safe to use both Ralgro and Synovex C in young heifer calves older than 30 and 45 days respectively, and younger than 90 days of age.  Caution should be taken when thinking of implanting heifers at birth, weaning, or for a second time as this will significantly decrease future reproduction.

Considering the cost of implanting and the cost of losing one bred heifer, is implanting heifer calves profitable?

Depending on bred heifer price, which can be very variable (ranging last year from $1100-$2200 per bred heifer), the cost of losing one bred heifer is not worth as much as the total increased ADG in the feeder heifers if all heifers are implanted within the appropriate age time frame.  To illustrate this, if the value of the open heifer decreases from $2200 bred to $1050 as a feeder heifer (-$1150), and the cost of implanting is $1.50/head at 200 heifers ($300), the total net gain to the producer from  implanting is $2745.  As another example of the profitability of implanting heifer calves, lets say the value of bred heifers drops to $1100. This particular year, the decrease in value of the one open heifer is only $50. Coupled with the cost of implanting, the producer’s investment totals $350, making the net return $3845 and the option of implanting more enticing.

As demonstrated, the net profit of implanting is highly dependent on the value of bred heifers from year to year. There are several additional variables to consider as well, including the actual decreased pregnancy rate observed in your herd when using the implants. The previous examples were calculated using the average pregnancy rates found when implanting with certain products as determined by research. What happens when your herd is not the average? In an attempt to calculate a worst-case scenario, the previous example is repeated, using a decrease in pregnancy rate in the exposed heifers at -10% as a result of implanting.  The pregnancy rate in the herd would decrease from 90% to 80%, resulting in 40 of 50 heifers bred, instead of 45. Again, considering the value of a bred heifer in any particular year can range from $1100-2200, selling 5 open heifers at feeder price ($1050) can result in costs ranging from $250-5750.  It is unrealistic to think that all heifers at branding time will be older than 30-45 days, but late born heifers may not make the replacement pen due to insufficient body weight at weaning time. In addition, the implant may help younger heifers catch up in body weight and result in a more uniform sale group at weaning time.

In summary, the profitability of using implants on young heifers can vary widely. The benefits of implanting possible replacement heifers at branding is still questionable, and greatly depends on a number of factors. Variables to consider are: the price difference between bred and feeder heifers, pregnancy rates, current cost of feed, veterinary services, price of weaned cattle, and ultimately, the goals of the producer. Producers are encouraged to conduct their own cost analysis to determine what is right for their operation.



Selk, Glenn. 1997. Implants for suckling steer and heifer calves and potential replacement heifers. OSU Implant Symposium.