Moving into a feedlot or intensive finishing system from a farm environment represents a significant change for livestock. The impact of this change can be minimised by preparing livestock for the feedlot or intensive finishing environment from a young age. This is achieved through yard weaning and an appropriate vaccination program, and then backgrounding the livestock prior to entry into the feedlot or intensive finishing system.
Backgrounding refers to the grouping and acclimatisation of animals prior to entry into the feedlot or intensive finishing system. This practice delivers significant production benefits once the cattle are on feed including:
- Improved socialisation
- Improved feed intake
- Reduced health issues
Each of these benefits result 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.
The backgrounding process involves grouping livestock destined for a feedlot or intensive finishing system in mobs that will be maintained in pens when they enter the feedlot.
Cattle and other livestock have strong social groups and mixing or disrupting mobs can be a significant stressor. By mixing mobs several weeks or months before feedlot entry and then maintaining those mobs while on feed, livestock are able to adjust and establish and maintain a new social group throughout the time on feed. This means that the time on feed is not spent adjusting to a new social environment and feed intake can be maximised.
The backgrounding process often involves feeding and the introduction to feed bunks and trough water. If livestock have not previously been bunk fed or exposed to troughs, feed intake can be reduced until they become comfortable with the environment.
Bunk feeding during backgrounding allows livestock to become conditioned to the method of delivery of feed and water meaning that their intake should be unimpeded when they enter the feedlot or intensive finishing system.
Feedlot or intensive finishing environments present significant animal health challenges due to a large number of livestock being confined to a relatively small area. The more pathogens that livestock can be exposed to before the feedlot or intensive finishing system entry, the more likely they are to mount a successful immune response to a challenge once on feed.
Backgrounding plays an important role in minimising health issues once in the feedlot or intensive finishing system by allowing livestock to interact, experience low levels of contagions and develop immunity.
Viral infections such as Pesti Virus and Infectious Bovine Rhiotracheitis are extremely contagious but generally cause only mild signs in young stock. However, they cause marked transient immuno-suppression during the viraemia and this allows more serious pathogens to establish. This is particularly important for conditions such as bovine respiratory disease which is caused by bacterial pathogens that are commonly found in the upper respiratory tract of cattle.
'Poor doers' can also be identified during backgrounding and culled from the mob before entering the feedlot or intensive finishing system.
Vaccinations can be administered during backgrounding to ensure that livestock are in the best possible condition and fully vaccinated when they enter the feedlot or intensive finishing system.