Stocker operators have an advantage in overall profitability if they can source calves that have been backgrounded on pasture rather than in a drylot, according to a study conducted by New Mexico StateUniversity. In a three-year study, researchers compared a low-input pasture backgrounding system to a high-input drylot program. The objective of the project was to compare differences in performance and overall profitability between the two groups during the backgrounding phase, as well as during finishing.

The pasture-backgrounded group was provided with a 32 percent crude protein range cube at a rate of 1.25 pounds per day, three times per week. The drylotted calves received a corn-wheat midds based pellet, as well as 1.5 to 2.5 pounds of alfalfa hay per day.

During backgrounding, the drylot calves gained significantly more weight and had greater final value, but according to the researchers, feed and total costs were more than four-fold greater. As a result, net income during backgrounding was $45 greater for the pasture-backgrounded group than the calves backgrounded in the drylot.

During the first half of the finishing period, the pasture-backgrounded steers had greater average daily gain and gained 2.8 pounds per day compared to the drylot group of calves that gained 2.36 pounds per day. Subsequent average daily gain for the two groups was similar through the remainder of the feeding phase. There were no significant differences in days on feed, overall average daily gain, carcass characteristics or percentage of steers treated for sickness. However, the drylot steers had significantly greater death loss (7.6 vs. 0 percent). During finishing, the pasture-backgrounded steers earned $113 more gross income ($946 vs. $833 per carcass) and had a net return advantage of $103 per head.