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Now Is the Time to Start Backgrounding Calves

Expert says adding more pounds to calves makes sense.

The demand for feeder cattle has supported higher prices this year. Relatively low feeding costs give farmers the opportunity to send more pounds of beef to market by feeding calves after weaning.

At the recent Missouri Livestock Symposium, Eric Bailey pointed this out, asking producers to think bigger. Adding more pounds to calves makes sense with plentiful feed and forage says Bailey, a University of Missouri Extension beef nutritionist.

Bailey says current markets seek bigger calves and the future markets indicate good prices ahead. Beth Doran, an Iowa State University beef specialist, agrees.

“Feeder calf prices for yearlings have been much stouter and stronger compared to lighter weight cattle this year,” she says. “So right now, where prices are sitting, there’s an opportunity for producers to background, at least for a period of time.”

Bailey says another reason to hold calves is to avoid the seasonal price drop that happens every year when most weaned calves go to market in the fall.

“Buyers get picky when lots of calves are available,” says Bailey. Feeder calf producers beat that market trend as feeding after weaning adds more pounds, which buyers want. “Feedlots are wanting to buy bigger cattle,” says Doran. “With bigger cattle, they’re able to cut the days they are on feed and get them to market faster.”

Doran says feeder cattle prices are driven by the market of steers and heifers. With optimism in that market, Doran believes the future outlook continues to look favorable for producers.  

Both Doran and Bailey agree for producers to make weaning as smooth as possible to reduce the loss in gain of the calves.

“If you have to dehorn or castrate, doing that while the calf is still on the cow is much less stressful and makes them easier to wean,” says Doran. “I like to see a lot of those management practices being done while the cow is still on the calf.”

Doran also says that newly weaned calves take a while to know what to eat and how to eat. Providing creep feed to the calves while they are still on the cow enables them to learn what to do so before being weaned, reducing the loss in weight calves experience after weaning.

Bailey says one low-stress transition is to not move the calves but reverse the usual weaning method and move the cows off the pasture.

After weaning is done and calves are calm, Bailey says other technology can be added including implants and other gain enhancers.

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