Evaluating management practices for backgrounding cattle

triplet beef calves

As I do chores each day after work, it has become evident that grazing season will be here directly. With stocker cattle prices near or at record highs, there has never been a better time to evaluate pastures and grazing systems to optimize the value of livestock in a grazing system.

Let’s discuss some management practices for backgrounding stocker calves on grass in 2023.

Calf quality

Looking at the livestock futures, there is a lot of opportunity in the cattle market for 2023. That said, I know there are concerns about calf prices as producers start to buy stockers to graze this spring and summer.

Remember that not all cattle are designed to be backgrounded. High-growth, high-performing calves are often best suited for delivery straight to the feedlot. The ideal calves for backgrounding are lean, green, grazing machines that may not be ready for finishing and will benefit from added frame, and compensatory gain upon arrival to the feedlot in the fall.

In the marketplace, stocker buyers should match their management skills to the type of cattle they can not only afford but manage. There continues to be a premium for weaned and vaccinated calves, as well as steers compared to bulls.

For those producers that back the trailer up to the back 40 and turn cattle out with minimal management for the next six months, buying calves that are of lower risk is often the best bet.

Backgrounding No. 2 type cattle often has some economic upside as value is added to calves that might not be ready to perform in a feedlot setting. These cattle need more attention and care during the first two to four weeks of ownership to make sure they get started on the right path with regard to animal health and nutrition.

There is a science to putting together groups of these types of calves. Aim for uniformity in fleshing ability and frame.

Supplemental nutrition

What about feeding grain in a backgrounding program? If cost-effective and aids in the management of the calves, limiting feeding some grain can be a tool in the toolbox. Remember that every pound added to that animal is as valuable as ever. However, those added pounds should be lean gain rather than adding fat cover. When evaluating supplement options, soyhull pellets or by-product could be a consideration.

Animal health

The best backgrounding programs have some sort of vaccination protocol, a solid mineral program, and a plan for fly control if needed. Respiratory disease and pinkeye are of utmost importance to control and mitigate given current cattle prices.

Work with your veterinarian to develop a veterinary client-patient relationship. That relationship is key to minimizing the impact of disease, especially in the wake of over-the-counter antimicrobials going under veterinary oversight in June. It doesn’t take many fall-behind or dead calves to erase the profit potential of a load in a backgrounding system.

Vitamin Management

Backgrounding stocker cattle can be a profitable enterprise if the impact of various factors can be neutralized or capitalized on. Summer weather and pasture conditions are unknowns when buying calves in March and April.

When determining stocking rate, knowing the carrying capacity of each pasture over time can help make cattle buying decisions. Rotational or management-intensive grazing can increase carrying capacity and productivity of the forage in proper infrastructure is in place.

Soil fertility is also part of a successful backgrounding program. Given the current economics of beef production, 2023 is a year to work on being more efficient in our production systems as every pound of beef produced on a farm is of greater value than in years past. Happy Grazing.


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