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Although some summer and fall calving occurs, the majority of calves in the Northern States are born in the spring. Therefore, to have a consistent supply of feeders entering feedlots, a variety of stocker programs are used. About 30% of calves produced in the U. S. enter the feedlot as calf-feds. Some of these calf-feds are weaned and enter the feedlot 30 to 40 days later. It is also common for calves to be backgrounded two to six months before entering the feedlot.
Many calves enter yearling programs. These cattle are nutritionally restricted to varying degrees and for various times. They make compensatory gain on grass and then make additional compensatory gain when they enter the feedlot (Klopfenstein et al., 1999). Because of the great variety of cattle production systems, cattle enter the feedlot at varying weights, ages and nutritional backgrounds. Ranchers have an opportunity to add value to their calves by backgrounding them. Ranches have forage resources. It may be possible, in some cases at least, to optimize the use of those forage resources by backgrounding calves produced on the ranch. We have conducted research on backgrounding programs over the past 15 to 20 years. We also feed 600 or more calf-feds each year. We want to share those observations and the appropriate economics with you.
Compensatory Gain on Grass. In the mid 1980's we conducted a two year study on compensatory gain (Lewis et al., 1990). We had three levels of winter gain on crop residues and measured summer gain. The cattle made 88% compensation. More restricted cattle in the winter made up 88% of the gain they did not make relative to the higher gaining winter calves. Five years of data were summarized from our Scottsbluff Research Center (Hayden et al., 1997). Calves were fed for two rates of winter gain. Slow gaining calves grazed cornstalks and fast gaining calves were limit-fed a high energy diet. They then grazed (summer) for two or four months. The calves that grazed season long (four months) made 57.6% compensation. Those that grazed only two months made 38.2% compensation. During the last two years of the study, British breed steers were compared to Continental cross steers. Compensation was the same (54.3 and 52.5%) suggesting that frame size does not affect degree of compensation.