Backgrounding; A Phase of Growing Calves in Preparation for the Feedlot

Steve Boyles, OSU Beef Extension Specialist

Backgrounding is a term used to describe a phase of growing calves being prepared for feedlot placement. As compared to wintering programs, backgrounding emphasizes a faster rate of gain, with relatively more grain and less roughage.

An example of a typical backgrounding operation would be to feed 400 to 500 pound steer calves to a weight of 600 to 700 pounds. If the feeding period was to be about 120 days, a ration and management program that produces an average daily gain of 1.5-2.5 would provide the desired sales weight.

Advantages of Backgrounded Feeder Calves

  • Provide a market for homegrown grain and roughage that might otherwise have little market value.
  • Calves are efficient converters of good quality feeds.
  • Avoid the stress and resulting health problems associated with shipping of young calves through the marketing system. Because of the potential death loss and health problems associated with handling and shipping of young calves, the cow herd owner has an advantage over those who purchase their calves through the marketing system.
  • Avoids the seasonal fall market glut and targets sales during seasonally strong feeder prices.
  • Provides more flexibility to spread marketings and choose among potentially profitable alternatives.
  • Provides additional flexibility for marketing heifers either as feeders or as herd replacements.

A study at the University of Nebraska in 2018 exhibits the advantages of first Continue reading

Why Consider Backgrounding a Calf?

Stan Smith, PA, Fairfield County OSU Extension

The recent packing house fire in Kansas has the potential to cause a backlog in feedyards that pressures feeder calf prices this fall. Backgrounding calves for later sale is an alternative.

Typically, when feed prices go down, we see feeder calf prices begin to climb as a corresponding move. That is, unless fed cattle prices are unstable or declining. A fire in a Kansas cattle packing plant just before a report detailing that the U.S. might have planted more acres of corn than earlier anticipated caused the perfect storm that allowed pressure on feeder calf prices at the same time as declining feed prices. With the time of year when the vast majority of U.S. feeder calves are weaned and marketed quickly approaching, there’s little time to develop a plan that might preserve or even enhance some of the value and profit in feeder calves that simply may not be in as strong of demand now as they might have been just a few weeks ago.

However, less expensive feed combined with the thought that calf prices can rebound in the coming months once we are past the seasonal tendency for lower prices and the damaged Kansas packing house comes back on-line offer incentive for developing a strategy to hold on to this fall’s feeder calves while also adding value to them.

To recap the path that’s brought us to this point, on Continue reading

Management Considerations for Backgrounding Calves

Steve Boyles, OSU Beef Extension Specialist

Consider a number of factors before retaining calves for backgrounding.

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 drylot, 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 resources
  • 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 Continue reading

Investments for Animal Feeding: Fence vs Machinery

Christine Gelley, Agriculture and Natural Resources Educator, Noble County OSU Extension

The more tools we have that maximize the days our animals graze while minimizing the days we feed hay, the better!

Years like 2019 can test farmers and ranchers to the brink of insanity. People in this profession have to be resilient to the unpredictability of the weather, the markets, and the general chaos of life. All year thus far, we have discussed many ways to adapt our animal feeding programs, pasture systems, and hay production to the far from ideal conditions we are facing.

By now, I hope you have read articles, listened to podcasts, watched videos, talked with your neighbors and your local ag educators about what to do next. Crop selection, site management, and soil health have been a huge topics addressed regarding cover crops for prevent plant acres, damaged pastures, weeds, poor quality hay, and feed shortages.

But, I’m going to take this article a different direction . . .

If you have Continue reading

Adding Value to Your Feeder Calves This Fall

Garth Ruff, Extension Educator, Agriculture and Natural Resources, Ohio State University Extension, Henry County

A recent CattleFax survey indicates that calves weaned for 45 days return almost $100/head more.

As summer slips past us yet again and with fall rapidly approaching it is time to discuss how to maximize the value of feeder calves that will be hitting the market in late September and October. If you have been following the cattle futures both fed cattle and feeders have been on a roller coaster here as of late. With that in mind there are some things we can do management wise to capitalize on this year’s calf crop.

Weaning. Across the industry, feeder cattle sold in the fall tend to fit within one of three categories: 1) balling (zero days weaned) calves 2) calves weaned less than 45 days, and 3) calves weaned for at least 45 days. When we look at adding value, weaning calves for at least 45 days netted the highest average sale price of $916 per head, according to the annual Cow-Calf Survey conducted by Cattlefax. In the same survey calves weaned for 28 to 45 days averaged $836/head and calves shipped off the cow were valued at $829/head. The lowest value calves on average were those Continue reading

Filling the Gap with Forages: Cover crop forage options on Prevented Planting acres

If you’re looking to harvest or graze quality forage from Prevented Planting acres yet this fall, or next spring, this is a “must see” video presentation!

Throughout this fast paced webinar recording, Rory Lewandowski, OSU Extension Educator in Wayne County, offers a wide variety of considerations for planting cover crops on Prevented Planting acres that can also double as harvest-able or grazeable forage for livestock.

Weaner Cattle Need Their Own Trainer

– Kirsten Nickles MSc and Anthony Parker PhD, The Ohio State University Department of Animal Sciences

The addition of a social facilitator cow seems to reduce the negative walking behaviors associated with weaning.

The most common weaning method in the United States beef industry is the abrupt removal of calves from cows at 5-8 months of age (Enríquez et al., 2011). Natural weaning in beef cattle however, occurs later in life for a calf at 7-14 months of age (Reinhardt and Reinhardt, 1981). The immediate cessation of milk supply and complete maternal separation causes calves to exhibit stereotypical behaviors such as walking and vocalizing at weaning. Calves will engage in these stereotypical behaviors for three to four days and the excessive activity and lack of feed intake result in body weight loss and fatigue (Weary et al., 2008). The anxiety and frustration experienced at weaning by the calf are critical factors that negatively affect the growth rate of the calf and can contribute to the onset of disease such as bovine respiratory disease. This is why we should aim to manage calves in a way that reduces these negative stereotypical weaning behaviors.

The use of a “trainer cow” or “social facilitator” has been proposed as a method to Continue reading

“Increase the feed, or reduce the need”

Stan Smith, PA, Fairfield County OSU Extension (published originally in The Ohio Farmer on-line)

Seldom have we ever been challenged by wet weather, mud and adverse conditions for such an extended period of time!

Seldom do we talk about forage shortages and above normal precipitation in the same breath. Regardless, that’s where we are now throughout Ohio and much of the Midwest. Over the past year abundant rainfall has allowed us to grow lots of forage. Unfortunately, it seems the weather has seldom allowed us to harvest it as high quality feed.

Since last fall the demand for quality forages has been on the increase. It began with a wet fall that forced us from pasture fields early. Followed by constantly muddy conditions, cattle were requiring more feed and energy than normal. At the same time, even though temperatures were moderate during much of the fall of 2018, cows with a constantly wet hair coat were, yet again, expending more energy than normal to remain in their comfort zone. Then, as a cold late January 2019 evolved into February, in many cases mud had matted down the winter coats of cattle reducing their hair’s insulating properties, thus causing them to require even more energy in the cold weather.

Reduced supplies of quality forages coupled with increased demand over the past year have led us to Continue reading

FAQs: Forages, Cover Crops and More

Stan Smith, PA, Fairfield County OSU Extension

It goes without saying, for many, what we’ve experienced in the beef cattle industry beginning last year and continuing to this point in 2019 is uncharted territory. In response to the struggle to get corn planted and hay made this year, lots of questions have resulted. Following are responses to a few of those most Frequently Asked Questions thus far:

I didn’t get my hay fields fertilized last fall or this spring. Can I fertilize it now that first cutting just came off without “burning it up?”

Yes, in fact immediately Continue reading