Boosting the market: Do implants help or hinder? |

Boosting the market: Do implants help or hinder?

“Implant use has become more a regional thing, with many producers in areas with poorer feed utilizing it, but in areas with better grass, the gain is slight so few ranchers bother with it.” Knowles said.
Courtesy photo

Hormone implants in cattle have been getting a lot of publicity with the rise in popularity of hormone free beef and the bad rap implanted cattle have been receiving in the media. Implants increase the daily weight gain and shorten the time on feed before slaughter. Non-hormone treated cattle (NHTC) take longer to finish and require more feed than their implanted counterparts, but often bring a premium price.

According to the guidelines listed on the government website,, the NHTC program has been in effect since 1999, when the European Union and the United States agreed to control measures to facilitate the trade tariff free of non-hormone treated beef including veal.

There are three principle components of this program:

Cattle are to be grown in approved farms/feedlots and delivered to the slaughter establishments with shipping documentation that includes the statement “Cattle Meet EV Program Requirements for the EU” and clearly identifies the animals and quantity.

“Hormone-free beef grades better and is better marbled than implanted beef, and I feel consumers will demand a better product and experience.”

Non-hormone treated cattle and beef are segregated at the slaughter establishment and handled in a fashion that ensures that they are not commingled with other animals or meat.

Tissue samples from non-hormone cattle are collected at slaughter and analyzed in order for FSIS to provide export certification for this product.

The Food Safety and Inspection Service has designated AMS as the competent authority for providing verification that cattle meet the specified requirements. To operate an approved NHTC Program, a supplier must submit a documented quality manual that meets all the requirements. The producers all must be listed on the FSIS PartnerShare website as well. And the slaughter house must verify the control in effect. The EU export requirements are listed on the FSIS website.

Superior Livestock Auction offers an NHTC program among their value-added programs. The NHTC program is a USDA-approved, non-biased, third-party audit that verifies the source, age and non-hormone treated status of the calves. This program is for the producers who are already practicing all-natural or no implants procedures and want to see the benefits at sale time. An on-site audit must be conducted and the ranch approved before cattle are sold under the program.

Marketing is the key to receiving a premium on NHTC and the premium is needed to make it worth the fewer pounds sold. Most of the higher-end premiums for NHTC and all-natural are private treaty as buyers are looking for that type and weight of cattle to fill contracts, since there is a limit on the number of pounds of beef allowed to be exported to Europe each year. Producers raising calves for a target market or a buyback program can usually be guaranteed a significant premium. Cattle premiums and markets are published weekly at

“I believe the demand will stay strong, there are more and more cattle coming into the program and the demand is increasing for high quality beef,” said Tim Larsen, co-owner of Sidney Livestock Market Center in Sidney, Mont. “As far as the current trade issues affecting NHTC, that is still up in the air and remains to be seen. Most of the niche beef markets are tied up a year in advance with forward contracts.”

“Hormone-free beef grades better and is better marbled than implanted beef, and I feel consumers will demand a better product and experience,” Larsen said.

China has a zero tolerance on hormones for their beef imports, so that has helped bring up the premium for NHTC in the past year. According to RaeMarie Knowles, managing partner and CEO of Ranchers Connecting Ranchers, a third party verification company, “NHTC producers are currently enjoying a three- to four-year high on premiums. This past July, 700-pound NHTC steers were bringing 20 to 40 cents more a pound. In order to get the premiums it is best if the rancher has a truckload, as the smaller groups are harder to sell.”

Ranchers Connecting Ranchers is one of the verification companies who conduct yearly NHTC audits for the USDA. “We strive to make everything easy and seamless for the ranchers and feeders. We help with the paperwork and are always available to answer questions. We walk the ranchers through the process to comply with the USDA regulations and do it for a flat fee. Producers looking to become NHTC certified can find out more information on our website,” Knowles said. “It’s important for ranchers to look into the costs and find a reasonably priced auditing company.”

“Implant use has become more a regional thing, with many producers in areas with poorer feed utilizing it, but in areas with better grass, the gain is slight so few ranchers bother with it.” Knowles said.

Growth implants in non-weaned calves have been proven to improve gains by 4 to 5 percent, so another 15 to 30 pounds at weaning, and is safe for the consumer, according to a study by the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. “Implants in Nursing Calves,” by Karla Jenkins, PhD, PAS. cow/calf and range management specialist UNL Panhandle Research and Extension Center.

“First of all, it is important to note that no beef is hormone-free,” Jenkins writes. “All mammals produce some degree of hormones, secondly a 3-ounce serving of beef from a non-implanted steer contains 1.3 nanograms of estrogen, compared to 1.85 nanograms in the same sized serving of beef from an implanted steer. A 3-ounce serving of peas contains 341 nanograms of estrogen activity. By contrast, a non-pregnant woman produces 480,000 nanograms of estrogen per day while a daily estrogenic birth control pill contains 20,000 to 50,000 nanograms of estrogen.”

Del Brost, a cow/calf rancher from Murdo, S.D., implants his steer calves at branding time to help make up for the loss of weight incurred by early castration. “I feel that having extra pounds to sell, makes up for implant cost and time involved,” he said.

Galen Erickson, University of Nebraska beef feedlot Extension specialist, echoed the sentiments felt by many in the livestock industry. “Cow-calf producers underutilize the technology available to them by not implanting their calves at branding. There is a downtrend in calves implanted now, under 40 percent, so that’s 60 percent that aren’t implanted and that equals a lot of pounds lost by not implanting and just because a calf is not implanted, that doesn’t mean it qualifies for NHTC.”

“The shift to no implants is concerning, as it takes more cattle to produce the same amount of beef, requiring more water, space and feed. The studies have proven that there is basically no difference in the finished produce. No other technology offers the amount of return as implants, more pounds of beef with less input. However, if the premium truly offsets the loss in weight and revenue, then producers can certainly explore certified NHTC programs,” Erickson said.

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