Where standing forage is in short supply, Kansas State University Extension beef specialist Dale Blasi says producers might consider backgrounding calves this winter prior to spring turnout. He and a team of K-State researchers recently completed a study to evaluate different backgrounding diets and their effects on performance during subsequent grazing.

The researchers sorted cattle into four treatment groups for a 60-day receiving period. The control group received full feed, while the other three groups were limit-fed at 2.5 percent, 2.25 percent or 2 percent of body weight on a dry-matter basis.

As expected, the full-fed cattle gained the most weight during the backgrounding period, averaging 3.13 pounds of gain per day and gaining a total of 167 pounds. Gains declined with the restricted diets, with the most restricted group averaging 1.6 pounds per day and gaining 110 pounds total.

Costs, however, declined significantly with the limit-fed groups. Production costs through the backgrounding period averaged $69.13 per head for the full-fed pens, but just $52.55 for the pens receiving the 2.25 percent diet and $49.85 for the most restricted pens receiving the 2 percent diet. Blasi notes that much of the savings was in feed, but the researchers calculated that reductions in feed also significantly reduced the cost of manure management.

Once turned out on grass, the limit-fed cattle gained weight faster than the full-fed groups, particularly during the first 45 days. After 90 days on feed, there were no significant differences in average weights between the full-fed group, the 2.5 percent group or the 2.25 percent group. Weights for the most severely restricted 2 percent group were significantly lighter.

Blasi notes that the restricted groups also incurred lower costs per head during the grazing period because their lighter weights at turnout allow higher stocking rates. He explains that at a stocking rate of 160,000 pounds of cattle on 640 acres, the 30-pound difference between the 2.25 percent restricted cattle and the full-feed calves would allow stocking an additional 13 head of the lighter cattle on the same land. Total savings from backgrounding through grazing came to just under $20 per head for the limit-fed cattle.