11/19/21 Backgrounding Cattle #446

Though feed prices can change significantly, rations don’t always change when it come to backgrounding calves, says Karl Hoppe, NDSU Extension livestock specialist. Hoppe joins Sound Ag Advice to discuss how producers can target gain using some North Dakota specialty crops as alternative feed sources.

Speaker 1: Kelli Anderson, NDSU Agriculture Communication Specialist
Speaker 2: Karl Hoppe, NDSU Extension Livestock Systems Specialist

Kelli: This is Sound Ag Advice, a weekly feature presented by NDSU Extension. I'm Kelli Anderson and I'm joined this week by Karl Hoppe, NDSU Extension livestock specialist. Now there's a lot of different ways to feed cattle and rations don't always change, but feed prices, as we know can change. So we're going to talk today about utilizing some different rations to target gain in cattle. But first things first, Karl, what are some of the differences between stocker calves and backgrounding calves?

Karl: Well, let me first say there's a similarity between the two because they all deal with the time period after weaning, before they go into a finishing feed yard. So, it can be a weight difference between 400, 800, 900, maybe 1000 pounds before the cattle go into a feed yard. Backgrounding cattle refers to feeding cattle. Stocker tends to refer more to grazing cattle. For example, we have winter wheat grass in Oklahoma. And if we wean off calves in North Dakota and ship to Oklahoma, they would be called stocker cattle because they're out being stocked on these fields and grazing off the winter wheat and taken off before they effect the winter wheat yield later on. But in North Dakota, we don't have grazeable fields during the wintertime for the most part. But in reality, most of the time we have a lot of snow on the ground. It's covered. There's no grazing resources available, what is out there is pretty brown and dead. So we look towards feeding our calves which gives us an opportunity to target the amount of gain we want on calves. So backgrounding refers to just feeding calves past weaning, before they're sold into the finishing yards.

Kelli: Karl, so once a North Dakota producer weans their calves and they want to put them into a backgrounding operation. What are some tips you might have to get those cattle started off right?

Karl: Well, the biggest tip I find in helping calves work on to a new ration for backgrounding is to feed the cows and the cows and the calves together to be feed the cows the type of feeds you're going to be feeding the calves after weaning. It makes that transition from one feed source to another one. If calves have only grazed grass their whole life, they don't know what to feed bunks about, but it only takes a few days with a cow to eat out of a feed bunk to teach a calf, where the feed is at, kind of like an automatic water versus a spring, the cow can show the calf a lot of things. But if you wean the calf off of a pasture and bring it home, they got to learn a lot of new things. And if the cows not there to teach them, then it becomes your responsibility to teach them.

Now, in order to keep calves healthy, the first thing you need to have is feed. You got to have food in your belly to keep you going. And if you've just been weaned away from cows and you're into a backgrounding yard, if all the smells of ground feed and silage are just different when you've ever seen these cattle are not going to consume this feed right away and it will take them several days to figure out and realize this is what I eat, just those few days of starvation. Think about you and I, if we go ahead and not eat for a few days, that affects how we are and so if you're not as healthy you may not be as resilient, especially if you put weaning stress on top of that. Some people have gone the other direction they'll put creep feeders out on pasture for cattle and then they'll drag the creep feeders into the pens where the calves are now into, and the calves now know what the creep feed it is. That works quite well.

If they've been on creep feed all summer long up until weaning, and then in the wintertime they can now consume creep feed, just realize that they'll consume quite a bit. Also, one tip there is, never let your creep feeder go empty. That will happen, it can happen. Please avoid it from happening because creep feeders that go empty, just lead to a real opportunity for overconsumption which leads to acidosis and death in calves. So that's the biggest tip that I say, manage your feed bunks accordingly.

Kelli: So here in North Dakota we grow a lot of specialty crops. Are there some alternative crops that producers can utilize to feed their backgrounded calves?

Karl: We have a lot of co-product feeds available in North Dakota. They're produced out of our ethanol distilleries or wheat-mid milling plants, or even our beet sugar factories. So we have lots of feeds available to us. Everything's got a little nuance to it when it comes to feeding it. If you need protein, distillers grains has always been priced the lowest price per pound of protein out there, plus it contains quite a bit of energy and works quite well other than the fact that you have to buy it. And if you're raising protein on farm, alfalfa hay is a nice protein source. Of course, other protein sources raised on farm could include field peas. Usually, they go into the human food market, but they can be used in the cattle industry. They usually priced so that they're kind of out of our price range, but if there's any offs or rejects or things can't be sold, it certainly works. Other feeds, like corn and corn silage, is it all revolves around availability and freight costs. We can spend a lot of money on feeding cattle, but we need to be careful on how much we do spend to keep our cost-to-gain competitive.

Kelli: Alright, great information from Karl Hoppe, our livestock specialist here at NDSU Extension. This has been Sound Ag Advice, a weekly feature presented by NDSU Extension.

Feel free to use and share this content, under the conditions of our Creative Commons: Attribution license.