Cattle backgrounding: A great opportunity for pastoralists and beef producers to improve their business productivity and profitability

Farming cattle in Western Australia can be tough, especially in times of drought, but producers are increasingly turning to backgrounding as an option for growing cattle for live export, feedlot or processors.

These forward-thinking beef producers were out in force recently, with more than 30 individuals from across the pastoral and Northern Agricultural Regions attending a field day at Craig Forsyth’s Avoca cattle backgrounding operation near Dongara. They were all looking to hear first-hand information on how backgrounding sale stock or breeding heifers could benefit their beef businesses.

The event was organised by the North South Beef Alliance and Bulleye with input from local livestock farmers, and a little bit of support from the Northern Agricultural Catchments Council. It was designed to facilitate positive discussions on a wide range of topics.

Craig Forsyth at the cattle backgrounding field day. Photo by Greg Brennan.

The topics discussed included:

  • The backgrounding process.
  • Future market requirements for slaughter cattle (e.g., whole body ultra-scan), and what they mean for herd quality into the future
  • Possible options for reproductive control in cow and heifers.
  • Options for adopting Granite Peak Strategy for growing out heifers for mating.
  • Returning to station with bulls and growing out empties to high value markets.
  • Pasture grass fed beef and how can you get involved in this growing market.

A highlight of the day was a presentation by Craig Forsyth of the Mingenew Irwin Group and North South Beef Alliance who shared the story of his cattle backgrounding operation.

Craig said that the ideal system for sending pastoral weaners for backgrounding works should include:

  • Stock that are weaned and handled in yards for a week or so to teach them low stress handling while feeding them hay and pellets in lick feeders. Thorough handling and familiarising with hay and lick feeder pellets on the station is critically important to weight gain performance after they unload at the backgrounders.
  • Stock that are loaded gently (and well hydrated) at the station and arrive at the backgrounder where they are unloaded onto familiar feed (hay and pellets in lick feeders) and water. Seeing the familiar hay and lick feeders when they arrive enables them to quickly begin eating and drinking.

After cattle are fully settled in the yards, they are weighed after a curfew of six hours, with data recorded against National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) numbers on a Gallagher TSi system, and then moved to pastures with other acclimatized cattle.

At Avoca, the pastoralist pays a fee per kilogram of weight gain as recorded on the TSi system.

“Over the years, these protocols have been proven to enable cattle to adapt quickly to the novel pastures and quickly begin gaining weight which is good for both the pastoralist and the backgrounder,” Craig said.

“To support continued growth of the backgrounding industry and strengthen the dry season safety net, it may be strategically important for pastoralists to commit to sending a certain percentage of weaners every year to a backgrounder.  Then, in a lean year, the pastoralist can give plenty of notice of intentions to send larger numbers so that the backgrounder can prepare to accommodate them.”

Other highlights of the day included a presentation by Garry Preston, from Elders, who talked about the newly developed MLA’s Dual Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry (DEXA) technology, an objective measurement tool which measures meat, fat and bone in the carcasses (carcasses composition).

Garry said that it is only a matter of time before WA abattoirs are installed with DEXA technology which enables carcasses to be scanned and objectively assessed for saleable meat yield.  To keep up with technology in the beef industry he recommended producers to visit the Beef Central website which has a wealth of important information for producers.

The day concluded with a presentation by Gavin Craig of Zoetis who talked about animal health, and explained the nature of the Vibrio disease, how it can seriously impact herd reproduction, and how it can be managed cost-effectively.

NACC was represented at the cattle backgrounding event by the Regional Landcare Facilitator Stanley Yokwe who said it was great to attend and hear the latest information on herd backgrounding in our region.

Stanley later expressed his thanks to the North South Beef Alliance and Bulleye for their help in organising the event. He also particularly thanked Craig Forsyth, Greg Brennan, Dr Bob Nickels of Great Northern Rural Services CRT, Dr Dean Revell of Revell Science, and Kane Watson of Rangelands NRM – who all worked behind the scenes to make the day a success.


This event was partially supported by NACC through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program as part of the Regional Landcare Facilitator project.

This article was compiled with input from Greg Brennan of Grazing Innovation, Geraldton.

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