Area cattle producers are seeing increased profit opportunities from retaining ownership of their calves for longer periods of time, and efficient backgrounding practices can make all the difference in the bottom line.
Justin Sexten, University of Missouri Extension state specialist in beef nutrition, said as the cost of gain in feedlots started to increase, producers realized profit opportunities by backgrounding calves and putting 200 to 300 more pounds on their cattle before sending them to be finished.
“Feedlots have been increasingly interested in the heavier cattle as placements. Traditionally, producers would market their calves at 450 to 550 pounds,” he said. “Now producers who background their calves market at 650 to 800 pounds.”
Sexten said this area of the country is well suited for backgrounding cattle because of its abundant forage supply – plenty of pasture in the summer and hay in the winter. Because forage is the main component of backgrounding diets, he suggests keeping cattle on pasture as long as possible to take advantage of the reduced costs and improved nutritional value.
“Nine times out of 10, grazing pasture is going to be better than feeding hay, so it is important to efficiently manage pasture land to get the most from it during the year,” he said. “When using stockpiled forages in winter, I recommend restricting access to areas of a stockpile to prevent waste. During the growing season, rotating cattle from pasture to pasture helps increase efficiency of forage use.”
In addition to a forage-based diet, cattle may need supplements to achieve maximum gains. Sexten said producers should look to provide 0.5 to 1 percent of the cattle’s body weight per day, increasing the amount as cattle get heavier or as the weather gets colder.
“Supplementation can be used any time of year, but late summer and winter seem to match forage supply and cattle demand the best,” he said. “During the late summer and winter calves are heavier, stocking rate has increased and forage quality is declining, as a result supplementation can be used to maintain performance.”
Corn can also be used as part of a backgrounding diet. When used with a forage-based diet, corn can negatively influence digestion if fed at greater than 0.5 percent of body weight. To maintain gains without negatively influencing forage digestion, Sexten suggested using co-product feeds such as distillers grains, corn gluten feed, soybean hulls or wheat middlings.
While feed rations are a main management issue in the backgrounding process, Sexten said there are also two pieces of technology he regularly discusses with producers.
He suggested implanting calves at weaning or at revaccination. He said the payback is about 10 to 1, and producers who are not implanting should be marketing their cattle in a way that helps make up for the lost profitability of implants.
He also encourages producers to use a mineral supplement that includes ionophores, which help control coccidiosis and improve gain. Additionally ionophores improve feed efficiency with less forage and feed consumed but without jeopardizing the rate of gain.
“These are two practices I recommend because they are relatively easy to do from a management standpoint and can make a big difference in calf gain,” he said.
Sexten warns that marketing cattle too heavy can have its disadvantages.
“Producers need to be aware of the market demands and adjust their management practices accordingly,” he said. “There are weight classes and market time periods where additional pounds of gain are worth less. Historically heavier cattle are seasonally high late July and August.”
When talking with producers, Sexten said he asks them to look at two numbers:   Value of a pound of gain and cost of a pound of gain.
“Knowing these two numbers allow producers to evaluate and adjust marketing and management opportunities,” he said.


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