In most instances, cattle are weaned from their mothers between three and seven months.  That means if producers have fall-born cattle, they are probably preparing to separate the pairs.  But before they load their calves and head to market, producers should consider if retaining ownership would be more profitable.
“Producers background their own calves to capture genetic and post-weaning management investments. Backgrounding may also provide an opportunity to efficiently utilize feedstuffs or forage resources,” said Justin Sexten, extension beef nutritionist with the Commercial Agriculture Program at the University of Missouri.
If producers choose to background their calves, Sexten said weaning management should generally have a greater focus on health.
“Producers selling calves at weaning may or may not vaccinate calves prior to selling depending on their marketing program. If producers choose to background, calves should be vaccinated to prevent post-weaning health problems possibly observed during the backgrounding period,” Sexten said.
Monty Kerley, animal nutrition professor at the University of Missouri, said weaning can stress calves, but backgrounding calves where they were reared may be beneficial.
“Calves are less likely to see a pathogen that they have not already been exposed to, and consequently, weaning and backgrounding on the farm typically reduces sickness and the cost associated with morbidity and mortality,” he said.  “I believe this is the reason that preconditioning programs have their associated values.”
Kerley said reduced medicine bills and feed costs can mean a profit increase for producers.
“Depending on the market prices, there are many years where an additional profit can be realized by backgrounding the calf up to 750 or 800 pounds. I expect to see backgrounding increase because feed costs per pound of gain can be reduced to almost one-half of what feed costs per pound of gain are in the feedlot,” Kerley said.
Additionally, Missouri producers may be able to qualify for a tax incentive this August by backgrounding or adding weight to their cattle, said Kerley.  For more information about the program, visit the Missouri Department of Agriculture’s Web site at
While backgrounding cattle is profitable for some producers, there are many factors to consider.
Shane Gadberry, assistant professor of ruminant nutrition with the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service, said risk is always a variable when deciding to background cattle.
 “There is always risk in market down swings, high morbidity or mortality rates and high feed costs,” he said. “Generally, the health risk with on-farm cattle should be low compared to purchasing and co-mingling sale barn calves; however, beef cattle producers should always be aware that farm raised calves are not bullet proof and respiratory disease and coccidiosis outbreaks can occur.”
Gadberry also said producers should look at the market to determine the value of additional weight gain and complete a budget projecting performance and feed costs to make sure the cost of gain does not exceed the added value from selling a heavier calf at a later date.


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