Backgrounding Beef Cattle Health Programs

Backgrounding is a commercial feeding enterprise in which recently weaned calves are grown to yearling feeder cattle weight, usually in a smaller feedlot. The principle objective is to prepare yearling cattle to adjust to a high-energy finishing ration in a feedlot, with minimal health problems. This is achieved by feeding the calves on a growing diet that yields rapid, efficient body weight gains without fattening. Maximum use is made of roughage type diets. The spectrum of diseases that occur in backgrounding enterprises during the first 45 days after arrival of the calves will depend on whether the calves originate from one or two source, or from many different sources, and whether they have been pre-conditioned or pre-immunized

Buy Quality

The health program for the backgrounding feedlot begins with the purchasing of good quality, healthy, low stress cattle. Many feedlot "Wrecks" can be avoided by careful sourcing of calves. Where possible, pre-conditioned or pre-immunized calves should be purchased. One source calves are desirable. If you are buying multiple source calves, fill each pen as a unit. Avoid topping up a pen with new arrivals. Minimize stress on calves by reducing time in holding, time in transit, and handling procedures.


Processing of calves is best done as soon as possible after arrival at the feedlot. Before the calves are moved to their home pen, all processing should be complete. Once calves are moved to their home pen, they should be left there. Generally castration and dehorning will be delayed at least three weeks after arrival at the feedlot.

Processing Procedures for Incoming Calves

  1. Check rectal temperatures on all calves. Treat those with temperatures higher than 40C with a broad spectrum antibiotic.
  2. Identify each calf with a permanent ID eartag.
  3. Vaccinate with IBR-PI, modified live virus vaccine.
  4. Vaccinate with 7 or 8 way Clostridial vaccine, plus Hemophilus somnus.
  5. Inject with vitamin A, D.
  6. Treat with a systemic parasiticide/insecticide.
  7. Implant with a growth promotant.

Bear in mind that these are suggested guidelines for processing calves on arrival at the feedlot. You should consult with your local veterinarian for specific recommendations for your area. Other vaccinations that may be considered include BVD, BRSV, and Pasteurella vaccines.

Once processed and moved to their home pen, the major concern is to adjust the calves quickly to feed and water. Calves should receive a high roughage ration, primarily good quality grass hay. They can also be limit fed a small amount of grain, as they become accustomed to the feed bunk. Water should be readily available in easy access locations. Well bedded sheds and loafing areas can provide the opportunity for the calves to rest. The calves should be checked carefully at least twice daily for evidence of illness and sick calves are identified and treated quickly.

Handling Sick Calves

  • Treat any calf with rectal temperature higher than 40°C.
  • Treat with long acting antibiotic ie, Oxytetracycline LA (5 ml/100 lbs SQ) or Micotil (1.5 ml/100 lbs SQ).
  • Treat and return sick calves to home pen immediately.
  • Calves that get sick again should go to hospital pen and be treated daily for three to four days with Synergistin (5 ml/200 lbs IM) or Trimathaprim/sulfadiazine (3 ml/100 lbs IM).
  • Return treated calves to home pen after last treatment.

Identification and treatment of other disease problems such as lameness, foot rot, pink-eye, ITEME, polio, diarrhea/indigestion, bloat, etc. are part of the daily pen checking routine. Consultation with your veterinarian to aid in diagnosis and treatment of these various diseases is an important component of the feedlot health program.

Producers involved in backgrounding operations are encouraged to work closely with their veterinarian in setting up a feedlot medicine program. The principle objective of a feedlot health management program is to optimize production and maximize profit which includes reducing death loss and drug expenditures. A veterinary consultant is paid to keep animals health. This producer - veterinarian partnership can be very beneficial to the health and welfare of the feedlot calves.

Prepared by Dr. Allan Preston, Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives.