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Implant technologies help the industry with both environmental and financial sustainability.

Sustainability has been a buzz word in the cattle industry for the last several years. However, sustainable practices —both environmental and financial — have long been in the cattlemen’s toolbox before the topic was popular with consumers. One such tool utilized for more than 60 years is implants.

The use of implants and their role in environmental and financial sustainability for producers was discussed at the “Implant Today, Impact Tomorrow” panel discussion hosted by Merck and FEED•LOT Magazine during the Cattle Industry Convention earlier this year. Experts across the industry weighed in on how the technology not only fits into the current environmental sustainability message that is important to today’s consumers, but also is a win-win for producers from a financial standpoint.

Ty Lawrence, Ph.D., chair of the meat science department at West Texas A&M University, said implants have improved our industry’s ability to convert grasslands to human edible protein for decades.

“Implants allow the animal to better utilize feed in the conversion of feed into food,” Lawrence said. “By providing an animal a growth promoting implant, we can produce an improvement of feed-to-gain of approximately 13%. That’s a big number when you multiply that number over millions of cattle that we utilize as food, and the number of years the technology has been around.”

Lawrence underscored the point that the industry has grown more and more food for humans from the feed resources that the nation’s natural resources provide.

“That’s a sustainable message that has been going on for at least 60 years now.”

Simplot Livestock is the second largest cow-calf operation in the United States. Randall Raymond, DVM, director of research and veterinary services for Simplot, said implants help maximize the efficiency of the cattle systems in place.

“A lot of the operations we deal with and the country we deal with, the forage can’t be utilized for anything else. In our case, it’s a lot of desert country,” he explained. “We want to take what resources are there and make the most amount of human consumable protein as possible.”

Technologies, such as implants, are helping cattlemen grow more food with less inputs, meaning fewer natural resources are used to produce a pound of beef. Lawrence says the science speaks for itself.

He cited research comparing an animal that never received an implant to an animal that received an implant. “We’re going to produce more human edible protein with lower carbon equivalents simply by putting in that implant,” he said.

Trent McEvers, Ph.D., with Dean Cluck Feeders, thinks of implants as a tool to aid in the performance of a set of cattle. It boils down to sustainability, profitability and a great eating experience, he said.

“On the sustainability side, it’s about how many days a set of cattle will be on feed, and how much grain will be fed so the cattle perform.” Days on feed utilizes resources like water – which is a very precious resource – as well as grains, hay, and silage. Implants reduce the amount of inputs needed to grow a pound of beef, making the industry more sustainable.

That leads to the financial wellbeing of the producer, and how implants make a difference. Lawrence said on the low end, producers can expect a 10 to 1 return, meaning the return on investment would be 10 times what you spent on the implant. On the high end, the return could be 30 to 1.

But ultimately, McEvers said, implants are a tool helping meet the demands of the consumer in terms of the product.

“We’re maximizing the God-given genetic potential of every group of cattle, making sure we don’t short sell those cattle, and implementing technologies in such a way to produce a high quality product that is tender.”

McEvers has focused much of his career on creating a good eating experience for consumers. “When you go to a steak place with your family, you hope everybody who orders a ribeye or a strip has the exact same eating experience. The consuming public is our customer. We sell cattle to all these different packing facilities. We buy cattle across the entire U.S. But at the end of the day, it’s going to be on somebody’s plate.”

With 60 years of proven sustainability, does that mean the industry can rest on its laurels? These experts say no.

John Hepton, livestock nutritionist with Performix Nutrition Systems, said the more “sustainability” has become a buzzword, it allows him to reflect back and see exactly what are we doing as an industry? What more can we do?

“I think we are definitely on the right track. I think that’s in the DNA of a rancher, taking care of the environment and being sustainable. But we’re certainly looking for more opportunities,” Hepton said.

“The next technology will come along, and we can do an even better job. We’re open to that. We care. It’s just who we are.”

Raymond agrees. “We like what we’ve done. We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished, the way we handle cattle, and the way we handle the environment. We’re really passionate about all of those issues, and that’s what drives us to look for that next opportunity to make us better, tomorrow.”