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Backgrounding refers to the preparation of cattle for entry into a feedlot. The process aims to grow cattle to feedlot entry weight and prepare them for induction into the feedlot. Backgrounding results in animals adapting quickly to the feedlot environment and rapid adaptation to a grain based diet.
Mixing cattle in a backgrounding phase at least 28 days prior to feedlot entry reduces the risk of bovine respiratory disease (BRD) in feedlots1. It also provides the opportunity to administer vaccines against BRD and other diseases such as clostridial diseases, prior to feedlot entry when cattle are being managed in a lower stress environment.2, 3 When done well, backgrounding cattle prior to feedlot entry can have a dramatic impact on the health and well-being of the animal both prior to, and after entry to the feedlot.
Where yard weaning has been done correctly, backgrounding is relatively straightforward. Where the history of purchased cattle is unknown, producers should follow a similar process to yard weaning to induct cattle into their backgrounding program.
Cattle should be settled into yards in the groups they are purchased in. They should receive their initial vaccination against clostridial diseases - Ultravac® 5in1 - and Pestigard to prevent against Bovine Pestivirus, as well as a single dose of Bovishield MH One, which prevents against the key bacterial cause of BRD. An intranasal vaccine is also available through vets which prevents against the Infectious Rhinotracheitis virus (IBR).
Outbreaks of BRD can occur especially where calves are purchased from weaner sales and it is important to reduce this risk where possible.4 Care should be taken to avoid transferring the risk of BRD from the feedlot to the backgrounding phase where it is more difficult to detect and treat individual sick animals.
Parasites and Nutritional Management
Depending on where they have come from, cattle should also receive a drench to remove any existing worm burden – Dectomax Injectable is a good option, but a flukicide such as Triclabendazole may also be required depending on where cattle have come from. Worms have their most significant impact in cattle from weaning to 18 months of age, so effective parasite control is critical to avoiding any setbacks in growth in the backgrounding phase.
The backgrounding phase will vary in length depending on the type of cattle being purchased and their target entry weights. However, data suggests that the process should be a minimum of 28 days in length. Female cattle should be pregnancy tested and managed appropriately to avoid the entry of pregnant cattle into the feedlot.
Worm egg counts should be monitored to determine the need to re-drench cattle. Depending on the arrangement with the receiving feedlot, all treatments normally given on induction to a feedlot may be given in the backgrounding phase at a time when cattle are less stressed and potentially more responsive.
Nutritional management should be such that cattle are grown but not fattened. Most backgrounding programs in Australia are based on pasture, but some systems also incorporate the ability to supplement cattle with silage or grain to ensure that cattle continue to grow but not begin to lay down fat.
Cattle should ideally be sorted into feedlot pen groups, or if this is not possible, into multiples of pen groups that can be divided into pen groups on arrival at the feedlot. Anything that minimises further mixing of cattle from unfamiliar sources on arrival at the feedlot reduces the risk of BRD within the feedlot phase of production.
Dectomax Injector Instructional Video
1. Hay KE, Barnes TS, Morton JM, Clements AC, Mahony TJ. Risk factors for bovine respiratory disease in Australian feedlot cattle: use of a causal diagram-informed approach to estimate effects of animal mixing and movements before feedlot entry. Prev Vet Med 2014;117:160-169.
2. Fell L, Walker K, Fraser K. Reducing feedlot costs by preboosting: A tool to improve the health and adaptability of feedlot cattle - Progress report on completion of Phase 1. Meat and Livestock Australia Project DAN069 2004.
3. Cusack PM, Mahony TJ. Evaluation of practices used to reduce the incidence of BRD in Aust feedlots. Meat and Livestock Australia, Sydney, 2017.
4. Taylor LF. Outbreak of fibrinous pneumonia in recently weaned beef calves in southern Queensland. Australian Veterinary Journal 1998;76:21-24.