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Nutrition in Backgrounding Calves

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Raising cattle for meat is very common in Canada and so being able to raise the cattle properly and get the highest production of meat is the goal. Being able to raise a calf up for meat all starts with one key process which is referred to as backgrounding. Knowing how to properly background calves with the proper feed ration and nutrients is essential to the health and growth cattle. Backgrounding calves is the process of feeding calves at a set rate that will increase their body size before they switch to heavy feed and start depositing fat to become a fat cow for market. (Thomas, 2016)

It is important to make sure that the cattle are getting all the proper nutrients that they need to be able to grow. Depending on the housing set up some cattle may receive different feed rations to be able to receive all required nutrients. Backgrounding calves is gradually feeding them from the point of weaning at 500-600 lbs up to 800-1000 lbs so that their body gets fully established before they get put on heavy feed so that the size of their carcass is big enough to support the weight and feed consumption when they are put on heavy fat cattle feed to finish them. The most critical time to make sure the calves get the proper nutrients while they are being weaned from their mothers because they still need to receive vitamins and nutrients in their diet, so you have to be sure to supplement it and match their usual intakes. You want to start out a freshly weaned calf on a ration that is roughly 0. 75% dry matter compared to total body weight. (Laborie, 2018)

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Within the first month the goal is to increase the dry ration intake to 2. 5% of the total body weight. (Laborie, 2018) When mixing you ration you will want it to be at least 60% forages or more and then the remainder can be blended with a grain or screening that is higher in energy. (Backgrounding Feeder Cattle Nutrition, 2013) The 60: 40 ratio can be altered however depending how quickly you want to get the calves to a feedlot and on heavier food because the more energy you feed them the fast they will gain fat which will can compromise the growth of the body which will decrease the carcass weight. The most popular way to background calves is on grass because it is the most cost effective and when you turn the calves out in early spring when the grass is lush and very high in nutrients. (Ward & McKague, 2015) When the calves are freshly turned out in spring they are still paired with their mothers so their feed rations would be milk and grass. When on pasture there is very little man-made shelter required as long as there are hills and trees where they are able to get out away from the harsh elements. If a shelter was required on a pasture farm that had little coverage the most common man-made shelter would be a homemade panel windbreak which are seen at the back of pasture farms and they are just any form of free-standing panel at a whatever the desired length is with boards fastened to it vertically so that they stick high up in the air.

Feed consumption depends also depends on the comfort and the accessibility to water, so housing is important to be able to background calves efficiently. You can background in many different locations, but the key factors are to have easily accessible water and shelter from the wind and elements. (House, 2010) The easiest way to background is on grass and just providing water bowls and windbreaks in the pasture field. On pasture is also the cheapest option because you have less expense up front for buildings. The other common way is to house them in a barn with a large barnyard with the feed bunks located outside along the edge of the barnyard. The other key to cattle comfort is for them to be in a clean a dry environment with lots of space for them to lay down. If you are housing on anything other than grass, you will need to be able to scrape up the manure and re-bed regularly so that the barn and the yard are as dry and clean as possible so that are is a clean dry place to lay down and relax so that they aren’t burning as much energy. (House, 2010) Water is the most important part of backgrounding calves because without water intake you won’t have feed intake so the easier the access to water the better the health of the herd. When starting out a new group you will need to use open top water bowls where the cattle are able to see and hear the flowing water so that they know where it is because troughs with float balls and other covered style troughs. (House, 2010) Calves in the backgrounding stage, 400-800 lbs, require access to 15-40 litres of water per head per day. (water requirement link)

When housing calves on fresh grass the amount of raw water intake is lower due to the amount of moisture in the grass, if housed on fresh grass it is possible to have no water bowls or troughs in the pasture as long as the grass is green and lush with a high moisture content however, it is highly recommended, and proven, that providing open access to water greatly increases productivity. (Ward & McKague, 2015) With the rising human population farmers have to ensure they can maximize their yields and get the most food out of what they have. So for beef farmers this means that they must background their calves to ensure that the calf is fully developed so that they can maximize the carcass weight when it becomes time to slaughter. (Thomas, 2016) However, to be able to get the maximum carcass weight the farmer must ensure they are feeding all the required nutrients that the animal requires to be able to support the growth. Backgrounding is a relatively easy way to maximize yields because the calves just need access to clean water, good forages and/or light grains, and a clean dry place sheltered from the harsh elements.


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