Implant Management

A few management adjustments could improve the success of your implant program.

Implanting cattle is one of the most efficient ways to increase average daily gain. However, if the implant is not placed correctly, or if a pellet is crushed or other factors limit the absorption of the implant, the increased performance simply goes out the window. Cor- rect implanting techniques can make the difference in a 20 to 30% increase in gain versus little to no gain coupled with added stress on the animal.

“Our team spends a lot of time doing implant checks for customers and conducting training,” explained Marshall Streeter, Ph.D., Senior Technical Services Manager, Merck Animal Health. “We look at proper implanting as a four-step process that starts earlier than most people think. Cattle management is an important part of that process,” he said.

Weather can be a factor, Dr. Streeter explained, particularly in the summer with hot, humid days. Working the pen early in the morning before it gets hot is one important management strategy. For feed yard cattle being reimplanted, the goal is not to knock the pen off feed.

“It’s a good idea for a feed yard to work with their nutritionists and cattle department on how to manage those cattle prior to reimplant. There’s really not a hard and fast set of rules, but in terms of lost intake around reimplant time, you might need to reduce feed a few days beforehand to try and manage the issue,” he said.

Another management technique that can help is moving cattle through the pen and processing area relatively slowly to minimize the risk of injury both in the processing area and squeeze chute, Dr. Streeter noted.

Cleanliness is also a management practice that is important.  “Prior to implanting, implants should be kept away from dirt. If you’ve removed the implant from the packaging, store it in a clean box or a rubber tote to keep dust and dirt away from the implants,” Dr. Streeter explained.  Implant trays with rollers or sponges should be used and prepped with a sanitary solution diluted with water according to directions. Make sure the implant gun is ready and operational and extra needles are available.

In terms of placing the implant, the middle third of the ear is the optimal place. However, Dr. Streeter said it’s not uncommon for an ear tag or ear notch to be relatively close to that location.

“There could be scar tissue around the area, so the implant should be placed at least one finger width away from the scar tissue. The blood flow pattern may have changed around the scar tissue and it may not absorb the implant properly. It’s always something to consider.”

A clean ear is also important. Scrape off dried material with a clean brush that has been soaked in chlorhexidine or a disinfecting solution. Then use the backside of the brush to scrape off the extra moisture. Taking the extra step to dry the ear is ideal, Dr. Streeter said.

“Many times those things don’t always happen. Crews are in a hurry. But you are running a higher risk of infection if you don’t take those steps. And you’re less likely to deal with an abscess down the road.” Another step to minimize infection is disinfecting the implant needle between each animal.

“If you get a skip (the needle doesn’t go directly under the skin) you need to disinfect the needle again because you can pick up bacteria on the tip of the needle,” according to Dr. Streeter.

As processing continues throughout the day, notice changes in the color of the chlorhexidine solution. The product starts as a turquoise color but is no longer active when it turns green. Streeter encouraged changing the solution with every pen, and if it changes color mid-pen, change it then. A cloudy solution also means the solution is losing its disinfecting qualities.

Once the needle is inserted, make sure it is in the ear all the way to the hub of the implant gun.

“A challenge we see is some individuals do not push the implant needle into the ear far enough. This increases the potential for one or more pellets to fall out leaving a partial implant in the ear. An important quality control check that the person implanting should conduct is to run ones thumb over the implant to make sure all pellets are present and straight then pinch the incision to help it close.”

A processing crew is often faced with several hundred head to work in a day, and they can be under pressure to work faster. However, Dr. Streeter said, as in other things in life we may need to slow down to go fast. It is important for management to reinforce how important proper processing is.

“In the case of an improperly placed implant or one that comes out, sometimes people view the loss as just the cost of the implant,” he said. “But if it’s a steer, you’re looking at 100 pounds of live weight and 80 pounds of carcass weight that you’re giving up on that individual. That’s the big loss.”

It’s up to  management to focus on quality assurance and explain to the processing crew the importance of their job. “As one of our guys said, the processing crew is not the most glamorous job in the feed yard, but it’s one of the most important.”

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