Maintain Health Throughout the Backgrounding Period

(SDSU Extension)

Even though calves may have been on a backgrounding program for several months,  it doesn't mean they are safe from  subsequent health issues later on in the feeding period.
By: Russ Daly and Reid McDaniel, SDSU Extension

Rightfully, we pay a lot of attention to newly-arrived or newly-weaned calves entering the backgrounding yard. We implement receiving protocols that include vaccinations, dewormers, and sometimes preventive medications in the feed or water. Finally, we institute “enhanced surveillance” during the first few weeks after arrival to quickly find calves in need of individual treatment. However, even though those calves may have successfully cleared the one-month hurdle post-arrival, subsequent health issues can still arise later on in the feeding period


Bloat is one condition to be particularly attentive of following introducing calves to backgrounding rations. In feedlot situations, “frothy” bloat is more common than “free gas” bloat. In frothy bloat, gas becomes trapped in the rumen fluid and pressure cannot be relieved through eructation. As pressure increases without relief, cattle often die of asphyxiation. There are many contributing factors, most of which are dietary in nature. Particle size, grain type, and unmanaged diet adaptation can contribute to changes in the rumen microbial population, increasing the risk for frothy bloat and other metabolic disorders such as acidosis. In order to reduce sorting, rations should be mixed thoroughly, and chop-length of roughages should be in the 1.5 to 2 inch range. Sound bunk management is key to establishing feed intake and reducing metabolic disorders. Proper use of approved feed additives such as ionophores (e.g., monensin, lasalocid, or laidlomycin) and potentially probiotics, can help alter rumen microbial activity in such a way as to decrease the incidence of frothy bloat. Surfactants such as poloxalene can also be offered in block form to help animals get through these issues, but nutritional management is key in reducing incidence of bloat. Remember, sound nutrition is a key component to keeping cattle healthy.

Veterinary Care

Bovine respiratory disease complex (BRDC) tends to show up at a much lower rate later in the feeding period. However, that doesn’t mean that some of the same germs typically involved with “shipping fever” can’t show up and cause problems in the later feeding period as well. In recent years, Histophilus somni, a common cause of BRDC has been increasingly implicated in sudden death in the feedyard. Usually, these deaths occur in the absence of any visible pneumonia. Oftentimes, these mortalities are associated with bacterial damage in the heart muscle that results in a rapid onset of heart failure. Anecdotally, clusters of these cases seem to occur especially after periods of bitter cold weather. Prevention of these infections is problematic. Vaccines are available to protect against disease caused by H. somni, but they are not always effective.

Mycoplasma bovis is another bacteria commonly associated with BRDC that can pop up later in the feeding period. While Mycoplasma is a potential contributor to BRDC, its slow-growing nature means that it will often emerge long after the typical 2 week post-arrival “shipping fever” period has passed. In addition to BRDC, Mycoplasma bovis can settle into the tissue around the leg joints, creating the appearance of swollen joints. As with Histophilus somni, vaccines are available to protect against Mycoplasma-related illness, but effectiveness is often lacking. Early recognition of these cases, along with treatment with appropriate antibiotics, maximizes the chance of recovery in these animals.

The Bottom Line

The list of ailments that could potentially affect calves later on in the backgrounding period is a long one. It’s important to be able to sort out what are potential herd problems from the individual animal issues. Working with a veterinarian to devise a plan to quickly perform post-mortem exams on any animal that dies during the feed period is important. Consult your nutritionist with concerns about feeding programs and management. Rapid identification of problems can lead to rapid interventions and slowing down or stopping a herd problem in its tracks.


Latest News

NCBA Reports On Q1 Voluntary Price Discovery Framework

NCBA president Jerry Bohn said a major trigger in negotiated trade data was tripped during the first quarter of 2021, as determined by the Live Cattle Marketing Working Group Regional Triggers Subgroup.

TSCRA Disaster Relief Fund Distributes Aid

Thanks to contributions from across the U.S., Texas & Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association Disaster Relief Fund mailed checks totaling $112,750 to cattle raisers financially burdened by February’s Winter Storm Uri.

Retail Beef Sales Remain Strong During February

Sales of all food and beverage items during February were 11.8% higher than during February 2020, and the meat department was an above-average performer.

Land Grab or Climate Solution? President Biden Could Unveil '30 by 30' Plan Details Next Week

Details of a U.S. land and water related executive order could be unveiled soon. Known as the ’30 by 30’ plan, it would place 30% of U.S. lands and 30% of U.S. waters under federal jurisdiction by 2030.

Ranching by the Seat of Your Pants

Oregon rancher Alec Oliver was determined to return to ranching and working from horseback after he was paralyzed in a vehicle accident nearly a decade ago.

CRP ground rotator
Vilsack Hints at Possible CRP Changes Coming Soon with Biden's 30 By 30 Plan

CRP could be in focus again. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said this week that he thinks greater opportunities are coming for landowners to take less productive farmland out of production and place into CRP.