Jeff Heldt, Ph.D., PAS, Land O Lakes/Harvest States Beef Feeds
The term backgrounding is often used loosely, however it should be described as a process that adds value to both farm/ranch raised feeds as well as the cattle by “marketing” the feeds through the cattle. With that said, the profitability of backgrounding is determined by feed costs, feed efficiency, and marketing, just like any other phase of the beef feeding industry. Backgrounding can be incorporated into most any beef operation if they have the ability to confine cattle in manageable group sizes and if they have adequate on farm/ranch feed storage (hays, silages, grains, and supplements).
Calves that have been through a backgrounding program (commonly 45-90 days) are appealing to buyers because: 1) they know how to eat dry feed out of a bunk, 2) they know what a waterer is and how to use it, 3) their immune systems are “primed” if the correct rations are formulated and the proper vaccination protocols have been implemented. However, the calves should not be too “fleshy”. This typically concerns cattle buyers because too much compensatory gain has been taken out of the calves. Therefore, calves should be fed to gain about 1.5-2.5 lbs/hd/d to avoid an over fleshy problem.
Backgrounding calves may be a viable option during summer drought periods as well. When forage quality and quantity are dramatically reduced and cannot support cows and calves at a desired level of performance, then an early weaning/backgrounding program can be initiated. This will allow the cows to pick up body condition throughout the summer and allow the producer to grow calves at a pace that will allow them to market calves when the time is right. Additionally, there can be a demand from the feedyards for these lightweight warmed up calves.