Livestock_Backgrounding_Plainview_2021 (2)

Preparing cattle for the feedlot

Grazing on the nation’s fertile pastures is where all Australian cattle begin their lives.

But for a percentage of Australia’s herd, there comes a time when they transition from grass fed to a grain-based diet in a feedlot to be ‘finished’.

Ensuring the smooth transition between paddock to pen is a high priority for cattle producers and the feedlot owner, and occurs through a process called backgrounding.

What is backgrounding?

Backgrounding is a way of working that puts animal welfare first and refers to the grouping and acclimatisation of animals prior to entry into the feedlot.

The practice delivers significant animal welfare and production benefits once the cattle are in the feedlot, including improved socialisation and feed intake, and reduced health issues.

Each of these benefits results in increased weight gain on feed and increased productivity.

Backgrounding also allows cattle to be grown out to a uniform weight before entering the feedlot, providing for easier management on feed and improved production.

What does backgrounding look like?

Backgrounding can look different, depending on the type of cattle, the feedlot they’re destined for, and potentially the end consumer they’re intended for.

The people and the businesses who conduct the process can also differ. For example, some cattle producers might breed and background all on the same property; while others may not breed at all and source their cattle from other producers or a saleyard, purely to conduct the process of backgrounding. Sometimes, there can be a mix of the two.

One such producer who breeds and backgrounds his own cattle is David Hill from Central Queensland.

David’s cattle are born and raised in paddocks, with a percentage of his herd progressing to a feedlot later in life.

“Backgrounding is a holistic approach to welfare to ensure that when cattle are in the feedlot, they are healthy and happy in their new environment,” David said.

“There’s a few things to consider when cattle are making the adjustment from paddock to feedlot.

“One big one is that cattle are herd animals, which means that in any new setting there will be a social adjustment to establish a hierarchy.

“To avoid difficulty in the feedlot pen, backgrounding means they can establish that hierarchy in the paddock.”

Central Queensland cattle producer David Hill.

The backgrounding process is also a time when cattle are vaccinated, to ensure they can handle any potential bugs or viruses they’re unfamiliar with that can occur in the feedlot environment.

This process, David explains, ties in with both national and state approaches to biosecurity protections, and there could also be specific requirements from the feedlot itself.

“The animals must always be comfortable and healthy, and we as custodians need to make sure we can manage any disease or illness, so this is a pretty vital part of the process,” David said.

Adjusting to a new diet

Backgrounding also allows cattle the time to adjust from a grass-based diet to a grain-based diet.

“Cattle always love the feed in the feedlot, but up to that point their diet had been limited to drinking milk and later eating grass,” David said.

“The backgrounding process helps them to gradually adjust their stomach to a grain-based diet.”

During this time, the cattle are also introduced to feed bunks, allowing them to become conditioned to the method of delivery of feed and water in the feedlot environment, meaning their intake won’t be impacted when they do enter the feedlot.

Watching the cattle in backgrounding with consideration to all these factors also helps to identify any ‘poor-doers’ – those that aren’t adjusting well and therefore likely won’t adjust to the feedlot, or who are prone to illness. Generally, those cattle go back to the paddock.

Relationships are key

Just like each stage of grass-fed production, backgrounding and the grain fed beef production process has links to the one before and the one after, the enduring relationships between the people involved in each stage are key.

As David explained, once the cattle go off to the feedlot, the process and the relationships don’t end there.

“We have regular contact with the feedlot to discuss how the cattle are doing – if there’s any issues or if there’s any ideas for improvement, things like that,” David said.

“Everybody’s learning more all the time.”

Learn more

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