The Casual Cattle Conversations Podcast

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October 25, 2021  

Do‘s & Don‘ts when Backgrounding Calves

October 25, 2021

Adding value to calves before sale day is critical. Monte Rainforth shares key actions to achieve success when backgrounding your calves to add value to your herd. 

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Shaye Koester  00:08

Hey, hey, it's Shaye Koester and I'm your host for the Casual Cattle Conversations podcast where we foster innovation and enthusiasm in the ranching industry through sharing the stories and practices of different ranchers and beef industry leaders. Be sure to be a greater part of this podcast and become involved on my social media pages. Follow @cattleconvos on Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok or Shaye Koester on LinkedIn to join the conversations around the challenges we face as ranchers and how we can overcome them. You can also find more information about this podcast all my episodes and how to partner with me on this show, by going to my website, With that, thanks for tuning in, and let's see who our guest is today.


Red Angus Association of America  01:09

Hey folks, let's give a quick thank you to the association helping make this episode possible. Profit. Repeat. With Red Angus genetics.  Red Angus bulls generate repeated profits for commercial cow-calf producers.  Year after year, despite unpredictable market conditions, cattle producers see increased return on investment for their Red Angus-sired calves. These cattle excel both in the feed yard and on the rail.   Calves sired by Red Angus bulls are eligible to be enrolled in the Feeder Calf Certification Program and wear the yellow tag verifying age, source and genetics.  Increase your profit potential with Red Angus genetics.  Visit for more information on enrolling your calves in Red Angus value-added programs.


Shaye Koester  02:02

Hey there, it's time for another episode. Thanks for hopping on again folks, if you're new Welcome to the show and I'm glad you found us today. In the spirit of fall activities on the ranch. We are going to visit with Monte Rainforth about all things backgrounding. Monte is certainly passionate and experienced in this area and is going to share some do's and don'ts about backgrounding cattle and a little marketing advice too. Before we get on with the show. Remember to have these episodes and my blogs sent straight to your inbox by going to to stay up-to-date on all things CCC. Also, go to to learn how you can gain access to exclusive episodes, content and rewards. Don't forget to follow @cattleconvos on all social media too. With that, thanks again for hopping on. And let's get on with the episode.  Alrighty, so what's your experience in the backgrounding space?


Monte Rainforth  03:09

Well, we calve about 300 head of commercial mother cows and for the last 25 years, we've always backgrounded prior to marketing the calves. So I'd say 25 years of backgrounding, my own calves and then also I worked for Merck Animal Health company. I have an opportunity to see a lot of different scenarios. As far as backgrounding calves in feedlots or on cow calf operations there is a lot of observation there as far as what people do different, what works, what doesn't work.


Shaye Koester  03:41

Okay, so how would you define backgrounding as a part of the beef cycle?


Monte Rainforth  03:47

That's a good question. I think that gets a little bit confusing to some people. And it's because it's defined differently by different people. But in my opinion, backgrounding is from the time you take those calves off the cow. And some people try to condense it into a certain number of days. And I think that's right, I think backgrounding phase starts when that calf comes off the cow. And to me, it's defined as a period of days, whether that's 30 days off the cow. My opinion is it needs to be a minimum of 45 days off the cow until they go into a feedlot type phase or a grass program phase. But I think at minimum for the vaccinations to take hold and protect those calves get them nutritionally sound I think a minimum of 45 days off the cow before they leave the ranch is in my opinion, the true backgrounding phase.


Shaye Koester  04:44

Okay, so you've talked about it a little bit as far as days, length of time and when it starts, but what does this process fully look like when we talk about backgrounding


Monte Rainforth  04:57

Um, to me, it looks like bringing the cows and calves and taking the calves off the cow and weaning the best way you know how. I prefer the fenceline weaning method, it seems like the calves don't travel as much in the pen. They're not as anxious, so they don't kick a bunch of dust. They're more you know more confident in what they're doing or supposed to be doing and that is eating and drinking and staying next to the cow by the fence. So that's what the process looks like. For me personally, it can look like a lot of different things, I mean, take them into a feedlot. Background them. Then take them into a small feedlot for a while without the mother there. But for me personally it looks like fenceline weaning and leaving them in that situation for a couple of days and then remove the cows or remove the calves or whatever your situation is. There's just so many scenarios that you talk about as far as getting those calves off the cow. We're kind of talking about backgrounding this morning, but the weaning process actually to me is a part of that and maybe you've got to get them started off right when you take them off that cow so that that's part of the process is removing the calves from the cow. Get them into the backgrounding phase. Get them started on feed and water to get the vaccinations and let them do what they need to do to perform and gain weight and stay healthy.


Shaye Koester  06:24

So when you say feed and water I mean what type of feed is this?


Monte Rainforth  06:29

Um those are all good questions Shaye and I've thought a lot about this podcast this morning and there's so many different opinions and scenarios that one can draw as far as what it looks like. What the feed looks like, how you do it, just literally hundreds of different scenarios you could draw so I talk I look at from my experience, what I like to do what works for me what I think works best and most backgrounding phases and the feed to me looks like long-stem prairie hay – good, high-quality, long stem prairie hay that's highly-palatable, highly desirable, buy that calf and then start them on some type of a pellet or some type of a ration. Slowly introduce that to them and get those calves on their feet and get them eating. You cannot hardly hurt a calf on prairie hay and so I think the ration looks like dry-stem prairie hay temporarily. Start introducing those pellets almost immediately. They want get them going. If you're going to be messing around with corn, be very very careful a corn. It gets into changing the rumen bugs. And if you change it rumen bugs too fast on a calf that creates stress. And that can trigger what looks like pneumonia or sickness. A good barometer for me to find out if you're dealing with a true sickness or disease in calves, respiratory disease or shipping fever, a good barometer for that is if you get some calves that look sick and you go ahead and Doctor him with an antibiotic, any antibiotic and they don't respond. Chances are you're treating a digestive upset versus a true pneumonia. Because the antibiotics we have available today are very very broad spectrum and good high quality products. So if they're not responding to one of them, and then you switch to another one and they don't respond you're not happy with your success, You are probably dealing with a digestive upset. And then we need to come back and look at our starting ration and see if we've got the rumen bufs out of whack. We tried to change them too fast. But bottom line is I like the dry temporary hay and a dried pellet and then go ahead and introduce them to your corn down the road and the week or two and and get them on their feet. That way I think it's so important the way we start those calves that very first day through the first two or three weeks. We can get a lot of things messed up there or we can get a lot of things right and I think it's directly dependent on that ration and how we start them. And it starts with dry stem prairie hay. To me, it just makes sense because that calf is used to dry grass or grass, you know you're giving the same opportunity all you're doing is removing mother's milk. And then the second part of that nutrition thing what it looks like is water. And water obviously is the number one nutrient of any living being. And just because they have water available, may not correlate that access. And if we don't have plenty of room around the water tank and the tank doesn't stay full. And especially in hot weather, those dominant calves push timid ones out and that triggers some sickness and some disease opportunity And so I think nutritionally the dry stem prairie hay and water and not just availability or access to water, but availability to good clean water.


Shaye Koester  10:09

Oh, awesome, thank you for going into depth and explaining that more. So, looking at backgrounding on the bigger picture, why is that an important part of this calf's lifecycle?


Monte Rainforth  10:25

I think it's really important part of that calf's lifecycle and obviously you know production agriculture as well as anybody. But there's a lot of different management practices out there. We can get by and do a lot of different things and have success and failure along the way. I think when it comes down to the beef animal, the backgrounding part is so important to that calf, because if we take the time to background him on the ranch, or in a setting that allows that calf to perform and prosper I think we're doing a big favor on the animal welfare front and, and showing the world that we're doing the right thing for that calf, and giving him the best opportunity possible. I think we're crazy to think that we can, you know, have cattle without any illness, just like people sometimes really get sick, can be self inflicted, it could just be something's going to naturally occur. But I think the backgrounding phase in itself really is the one segment of our industry or one production opportunity that gives us the best opportunity to provide a setting for that calf to stay healthy for the rest of his life on to the next phase and to me it's you know, it is about me, you know, as always like to say really, it is all about me what I'm doing here on the ranch, because I'm here to make money and if this backgrounding deal doesn't make me money most of us aren't really interested in listening to anything on that but the reality to is it's gonna make me money I know it does. Otherwise, I wouldn't do it this long. As far as backgrounding, if my calves didn't make money, I'd jerk them off the cow and then be done with it and hope somebody had a good day with them. For the second part and I think the important part of this industry is we need to look out for the next person. You know, it's it's our industry is pretty segmented. And I'm always concerned about the next guy, you know, if I'm going to background my calves and they've been background and 45 days, they've had all their shots and they've been nutritionally started right? They're straightened out, they're not sick, that gives me some satisfaction that I can take those calves to the sale barn and move them to the next person meaning the feedlot and they're going to have success and my reputations on the line with that so I follow through and make sure that they're happy with the calves. If they got sick, I want to know why, how many, what time, and what happened. Following up on that I think that's really really important as far as the opportunity for calves and give them the best chance to stay and stay healthy and perform all the way through and we want to talk about production and agriculture. You know that it's about the rancher it's about the feedlot it's also about the packer and consumer. You know, we know through research that we do a good job setting these kids up for success in the feedlot packers are gonna have success the consumers can have success, so it all plays hand in hand. And basically it starts with the rancher.


Shaye Koester  13:46

Okay, so looking on the other end, what are common mistakes you see producers make when they are backgrounding.


Monte Rainforth  13:55

Okay, yeah, there And believe me, there's plenty of mistakes can be made. I can tell you firsthand, I've made plenty of mistakes backgrounding calves, and if somebody is gonna jump in and background calves, I think they need to have their eyes wide open. I'm 100% on board and that's the right thing to do for the calf. It's the right thing to do for the industry. It's the right thing to do for animal welfare. Not everybody's able to or willing to do it. But if you're going to jump into it, eyes wide open, understand your risk, understand your reward. And number one thing is nutrition. We need to start these calves right. And I think that's probably the number one mistake I see. And it's not dependent on the size of operation. There could be a huge person that could be a small producer. It's not getting these calves started right and not really understanding the concept. Cause and Effect of poor nutrition. And poor nutrition to me is not defined as not enough feed or low quality feed. Sometimes I see as I look around, and I have the opportunity to get next to some of these guys, and unfortunately the reason I get next to him is they have trouble and they call me and say, Hey, what do you think of this. And believe it or not, a lot of times it's the calves that get sick, are on real high quality feed. And a lot of it and it's almost like we overdo it by think by doing what we think is best for that calf having really high quality feed. And a lot of it is actually the wrong thing. It's wrong thing for that calf. So I learned years ago that you know, I don't want them to starve but I want those calves happy to see me when I go out there and feed them that next morning, they need to be a little hungry. Some people call it keeping them dry, you know, keeping that stool kind of firm and then not dry, but keeping that stool firm, not getting them loose. So I think nutritionally, that's one of the biggest things is understanding how to start that calf how to feed him. And more is not better. Just like with vaccines more is not necessarily better. When it comes to nutrition. It's understanding the ingredients you're feeding them and the effect those ingredients have on the rumen of that calf and how that affects the health of that calf. So that's that's probably number one far and away that is number one. So somebody's going to embark and background calves and they don't really have a lot of experience with it. Seek somebody out that has done it has had success and find out what they're doing nutritionally and I come back to prairie hay. That is the biggest most forgiving ingredient we have access to is high quality prairie hay, to buffer that rumen and those calves will stay healthy. It's about performance. Now calves won't perform real well on prairie hay long term. But we're not talking long term. We're talking per day and for a short period of time until those calves get over missing their mother. They're over missing the milk. And now once they do that and we've been through the vaccine stage where we're given those vaccines an opportunity to work and the calf to uptake them. And now we can start moving into the ration type deal. And mixed ration, a pellet, whatever you want to do just a lot of different options. There's really not a right or wrong way on this process. But there are some things to look at. And I think your question was what are some of the biggest mistakes and the biggest one I see before in a way is nutrition. When it comes to the feed they're eating.  The other common mistake I see that messes many groups of calves up as the feed does, but it's the water situation. I mean you I see too many times we have four or 500 head of calves in a pen with one little tank in there and they can only get around one side of it because it's in between two fences. And it's all burrowed out around the tank and blown out and they can't get up there and drknk once it gets down a foot. Those calves just aren't getting enough fluid. Then one of the barometers to see that is number one they're going to show you they're going to get ganted up. The other thing is you can tell a lot if you go into a set of calves at any stage of production and look at the stools of those calves. If they're all hard and dry, and the calves are a little bit depressed. You need to start looking for a problem problem and the problem could be water, it could be nutrition, it could be water, it could be a lot of things but those are the primary two. If they're splattery different color and all over the board. You need to go to the bunk. There's something wrong in the bunk we probably have too much feed in there if you're not feeding to a slick bunk. those calves are probably getting digestive upsets acidosis and they're going to show symptoms like pneumonia. If you try to treat with an antibiotic and they don't respond chances are that's a problem. Go back to long-stem prairie hay and get them straightened out as quick as you can and get through that rough period of time with them. And then the third one is your animal health, your vaccines. You know I've been doing the vaccine deal for quite a number of years. And over 30 actually, and I mentioned earlier more is not better. And I see too many times we overwhelm these calves with too many vaccines. And I won't get into it too deep here but there's things called Gram negative vaccines, your foot rots, your pink eyes, you're somnus, your mycoplasmas and we start overwhelming those calves with too many Gram negative vaccines and we'll make those calves sick. We'll darn sure help them get sick so, so overdoing the animal health part of it, we need to do enough but I see too many times we overwhelm the calf's immune system and don't let them respond very well to anything and we can trip those calves into being more sickly type calves so those are the three most common errors I see when it comes to backgrounding calves and then for that fact any stage a cow calf production or feedlot production


Shaye Koester  20:39

Okay, so the next point I kind of wanted to ask you would be what are the main things that producers need to remember when backgrounding calves? Does that just go back to those three points you discussed about what's in the bunk, the water situation and vaccinations? Or is there more you'd like to add to that?


Monte Rainforth  20:57

No, that's about it. You know, I will say we will. We do everything right, to the best of our ability, we have nutrition right. We have the water right. We have the animal health right. It doesn't mean those calves won't get sick. Mother Nature can overwhelm the best intentions and best program but my opinion is if we get everything right that's in our control. Chances are Mother Nature is not going to hurt It's too bad. I mean those calves can take some pretty dusty dry days and take on some pretty long wet windy cold days. As long as we got those three things in order, the water feed and animal health it's pretty amazing to me what those cattle can take. So we we control we have a handle or what we can and what we can't control we try to manage it but don't worry too much about it I mean try to keep them out of the you know if you got a big old blow coming get them behind some shelter and do what you can, but my experience is that if we if we take care of those three main things feed water and animal health, we can make them pretty bulletproof but nothing's a guarantee but we can help ourselves a lot and help the calves a lot by providing that opportunity.


Shaye Koester  22:19

Okay, so switching gears to kind of the marketing side of things what are the key elements producers need to be aware of or do when they're marketing these calves that they're backgrounding


Monte Rainforth  22:33

I kind of mentioned earlier but risk. I mean this is a risky business we all know it's a low margin business and you need to manage your risk best you can and I think that's why some choose not to background calves and take them off the cow and sell them. I mean there's risk you do it long enough you're gonna lose one. You do it long enough you're gonna regret no matter what your your best of intentions you're going to open yourself up to problems but the reward is well we know there's risk in it but there's great reward in it for you personally. Financially you're gonna have little money wrapped up in them you're gonna have some time wrapped up in them but the reward can be awfully great done right and it still starts with the quality animal. I mean you can add value to any quality of an animal by backgrounding them and adding value to them for the next guy but but you need to know the higher quality animal the better reward you get, I think so I think it's understanding your risk understand your reward. You know, you need to market those calves. Sale barns do a tremendously good job for our industry. I mean, they're just we're fortunate along Highway 20 we have some great barns along Highway 20 Basset, Atkinson, Burwell just some great barns that sell a lot of high quality calves people those barns do a fantastic job and not only in handling the animals and get them through the sale barn but getting buyers there they do a great service. Having said that, me personally I feel it's important for me to market my own. You know, I tried to make the contacts from past buyers. I follow up with them, let them know 'hey, these calves are gonna be in Basset this day' or wherever I'm gonna take them to. And here's what they are. We got along good last year you bought them last year two years ago. Thanks for your interest in them and do your part as a producer. I think that's probably the biggest mistake I see is we depend a lot, as good as a sale barns are, we put a lot of pressure on them to market our calves. They do a good job. The calves and they'll mark your calves as well, you know, they advertise and all that. But I think as a producer, if you really want to capture the value out of your calves and the effort hard work you put into those calves all the way from breeding their mothers, the background and them getting them to that stage. I think a big mistake is we don't do a good enough job as individuals marketing, okay?


Shaye Koester  25:24

So do you want to elaborate a little bit more on that, as far as, as individuals not doing a good enough job of marketing calves.


Monte Rainforth  25:34

Um, maybe that's not the right way to say it, I think maybe it's not the right way to say that they don't do a good enough job. Maybe they don't put enough effort into it. Maybe some don't have the confidence to do it. To me, that's kind of the fun part of it, you develop the relationships, and you're building your own reputation, you're building the reputation of your herd. So I don't know that I have a lot to add on that, Shaye. Except, I think that's a really, really important step that sometimes gets left out, we put all this work and effort into it. And contacting the buyers you know, it's one thing know the feedlot that owns your calves, the bottom it's another thing to have a relationship with buyers, you know, try to find those buyers at least know them, be able to visit with them follow up with them. Did you like him? Or you know, 'I saw you betting on my calves and you bailed out 50 cents short of buying them and what stopped you?' not being accusative. But you know, I'm just interested what stopped you from taking that extra bit? You know, did you get to the end of your rope? Was that just the end? That's all you had? Or was there something about the cattle that they were a little too full or little to something or a try to learn something from those buyers, they they know a lot, they see cattle every day, and try to learn something and make yourself better and make your operation better. I think that's the goal. Because we'll never know it all. We'll never know everything about it. But the fun part is kind of that not knowing everything about it, but trying to keep learning of how can I make my herd better? How can I make my herd more profitable? And those are exciting things to me to try to get accomplished? Knowing that it's impossible to do but you're gonna make progress all the time.


Shaye Koester  27:32

Well, absolutely. It's about learning and making that progress. But with that, that really wraps up all the main points and questions I wanted to ask you. Do you have anything else you'd like to add before we wrap up completely?


Monte Rainforth  27:45

Why is it valuable to feedlot I think that's something that needs to be hit on a little bit harder probably is the value of the feedlot. I think we're the industry is getting so much attention, so much attention from the animal welfare side, the backers and how you doing things, what's your production practices and I think, you know, as a cow-calf guy, if I can provide the best opportunity to a feedlot to minimize their antibiotic use to keep those calves healthy, and provide a good product to the to the packer and the consumer. We know that sick calves don't read well we know there's so much we do know about how disease and sickness affects these animals. And I think you know, most feedlots recognize that. And I think sometimes cow calf guys feel like they don't recognize it. But believe me I believe feedlots do recognize that a backgrounded, well vaccinated calf has more value than a calf brought into town right off the cow. And the market shows that to some degree, but not consistently. And I think the lack of consistency in how the cow-calf guy views it probably creates some reservations of why do I want to go down this path of backgrounding and put the shots into them and all the headache and risk losing one every now and again. When it's not a consistent payback and my argument is it is a consistent payback. It may not be financial gain every year, eventually it will be generally but we need to look out for the next guy a little bit in this industry and give them the best opportunity with what we're providing them. And so my message to cow-calf guys would be don't get discouraged by it. You know you're going to lose one you're gonna have some expanse. You can't take your backgrounded calves to the sale barn that have been background for only 20 or 30 days and say they've had all the shots and say they bring the same money as someone that's got some higher quality calves in there that are right off the cow, that's not comparing apples to apples, the guy that brings some really reputation high quality calves right off the cow and gets more money or at same money as you do and you put all this work into, well, you got to buck up and realize maybe your calves don't have the reputation that this guy does. And maybe they're not the highest quality, you know, maybe they're put together calves, maybe you've got to recognize your quality, you're not comparing apples to apples. So don't let somebody misconstrue that and discourage you from adding value to your calves, and utilizing the tools we have available to us to add value to the calves. So I just kind of wanted to touch on that a little bit more. I think feedlots recognize it. Of course, every cow-calf guy wish they'd pay more for backgrounded calves. But they can only pay so much, you know, they've got a budget as well. So just don't get discouraged as me my message.


Shaye Koester  30:57



Monte Rainforth  30:58

I appreciate the opportunity, Shaye, I really do. I think this is a very important thing that you're doing as far as your podcast, and I just I just really appreciate the opportunity to see a young person get involved and do things that you're doing and then bring in something kind of unique to the industry and giving people an opportunity to another platform to learn and you know, gain experience. I'll never sit here and have a podcast with you sitting here saying I know everything. I know there's probably way more I don't know. But it's interesting to me. And if you're interested in it, you're going to try to do your best and excel at it. And I just the message I would say is just a big thanks to you for doing what you're doing and helping people try to get better at their operations. Whether it's you know, just cow-calf in general, or feedlot or animal health, whatever it is. It gets me excited. It gets me excited to see you do the things you do. So thanks for the opportunity.


Shaye Koester  31:58

Well, thank you very much.


Red Angus Association of America  32:00

Once again, thank you to the red Angus Association of America profit repeat with red Angus genetics. Red Angus, the industry's most favored female, generates repeated profits for commercial cow calf producers. independent research from a decade of data collection showed red Angus sired heifers commanded $66 per head more than females of other breed types. That's nearly $5,300 on a single load of replacement heifers. A true boost to profits on your operation. Why are Red Angus females the most favored they're strong maternal characteristics and quiet dispositions top the list. They are also productive, though maintenance and deficient. In short, they do their job and do it well. Visit red for more information on the industry's most favored female.


Shaye Koester  32:54

And that's a wrap on that one, folks. Thank you Monty for sharing your story and advice with all CCC fans and myself. If you want more content on backgrounding Be sure to comment on this episode, a social media post or shoot me a direct message and I'll see if I can find you more information. With that. Have a great day and I'll catch you on the next one.