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Management considerations for backgrounding calves

published: May 15th 2020
by: Steve Boyles
source: Ohio State University Extension

Backgrounding is the growing of steers and heifers from weaning until they enter the feedlot for finishing.  Backgrounding and stocker cattle are similar although backgrounding is sometimes associated with a dry lot, and stockering cattle is thought of as pasture-based system.   However, any system that takes advantage of economical feed sources can be investigated.
    Why might someone consider backgrounding or growing cattle?
    •The producer has time and economical feed re-sources
    •The market at weaning is not as favorable and is investigating alternative marketing times
    •Some feedyards prefer buying/feeding yearlings. They can expect fewer health problems and can feed two turns of cattle in a year.
    •It could be a way of upgrading mismanaged cattle so as to add value.
    •Since the cattle can be on feed for several months, they can fit the preference by some feeders for preconditioned cattle
    There are many systems for backgrounding. A common one is calves are retained or bought in the fall and sold a few months later.  A backgrounding system can be part of a cow-calf operation or part of a finishing operation.
    You can handle about 1.4 calves on the feed needed for one beef cow.  Since the cattle are not owned very long in typical backgrounding and stockering operations, buying and selling skills are very important.
    If you are growing cattle for someone on a contract, you may own/retain the cattle for a relatively short time, therefore what you buy (or the price you could get at weaning) and the selling price as a backgrounded calf is very important.  Rate of gain increases in importance the longer you own the cattle.  Have an idea of the value of the feed resources you have on hand in addition to those you purchase.  In-vestigate the use of implants and feed additives for growing cattle to optimize feed efficiency.
    One might budget for two percent death loss to protect yourself.  Skills in detecting sick cattle are essential.  Take time to observe the cattle during feeding. Work with your veterinarian in having a health management plan.  Work with your local auction facility to see if they can be part of a preconditioning sale.
    Rate of gain needs to allow for growth but you do not want the cattle to become fat.  Historically, this has been around 1.5 to 2.0 pounds of daily gain.  With larger frame cattle we can approach 2.5 pounds a day gain.  Faster rates of gain can reduce cost per unit of gain.  Since these are young cattle they can respond to high quality forage based diets.  Cattle backgrounded in the fall and winter that are destined for pasture should not be fleshy if gaining 1.5 to 2.0 pounds per day.
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