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Best backgrounding target: 2.5 pounds of gain per day

Best backgrounding target: 2.5 pounds of gain per day

NDSU and SDSU researchers zero in on recommended target for feeding weaned calves.

Aim for an average daily gain of 2.5 pounds per day when backgrounding beef calves in the feedlot, recommends Karl Hoppe, North Dakota State University Extension area livestock system specialist, Carrington.

“There is always concern about calves getting too fleshy at higher rates of gain. Cattle buyers tend to discount fleshy calves that exhibit too much body fat or condition because fleshy calves tend to have poorer subsequent feed yard performance.”

Aiming for a goal of 2.5 pounds of gain per day is a “safe place to be” because it’s not too high or low, he says.

FEEDING TARGET: Calves in this backgrounding feedlot are being fed to gain about 2.5 pounds per day, which research at South Dakota State University and North Dakota State University indicates is just about the perfect target. Photo: Loretta Sorensen

Hoppe bases his recommendation on the results of a study conducted by Anna Taylor, a former animal scientist at the Carrington center, and her colleagues at South Dakota State University. The study focused on how backgrounding rates of gain impact carcass characteristics.

In the study, steer calves weighing an average of 697 pounds were backgrounded until they weighed an average of 878 pounds. They were divided into three groups. Each group was backgrounded at a different rate of gain: 3 pounds per day for 63 days, 2.5 pounds per day for 79 days or 2 pounds per day for 93 days.

The steers were fed a corn silage-based diet. At the end of each backgrounding treatment, the calves were fed the same finishing ration and harvested at a common backfat thickness of 0.55 inch.

To reach the common backfat thickness, the calves with the lower backgrounding rate had to be fed longer than the other two groups. The calves gaining at the rate of 3 pounds per day were fed the finishing ration for 187 days, while the calves gaining at the rate of 2.5 pounds per day were fed for 201 days, and the calves gaining at 2 pounds per day were fed for 221 days.

The study also found that calves performed better, with increased average daily gain, during the finishing period when the backgrounding average daily gain was lower. In addition, hot carcass weights were heavier in calves backgrounded at a lower average daily gain.

“In other words, when backgrounding calves at lower rates of gain, calves are set up to gain faster and go to heavier slaughter weights when fed to a consistent 0.55-inch backfat,” Hoppe says.

Taylor and the SDSU researchers also found that marbling appeared to be best when calves are not grown too fast or slowly, which in this study equated to the average daily gain rate of 2.5 pounds per day.

For more information on backgrounding, contact Hoppe at 701-652-2951 or, or see NDSU videos on YouTube at and

Source: NDSU Extension Service

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