I’ll be honest, I’m just plain worn out this week. The full force of what cattlemen call the “fall run” is upon us. The “fall run” is the when all the calves born in the spring all sold to feedlots and stocker calf operations. While it refers to a “run” of calves, it seems like the veterinarians like me are the ones running around, vaccinating and implanting almost non-stop for the next month.
So why does this happen? Well, it has a lot to do with biology and geography. You see, for the most part certain parts of the country make great ranches because they can raise grass and about nothing else. So in these areas, people have momma cows that produce babies that are born in the spring. These calves grow with their mothers for six months or so until they are weaned in the fall. Then after a preconditioning period they are sold to either a backgrounder (or stocker), or direct to a feedlot. They can’t really keep them on the ranch, because they need that grass and hay to feed the momma cows.
Because the vast majority of the calves are born in the spring, that means that there is a seasonal influx of calves. However, beef consumption is more consistent year-round. So how do cattlemen create a year-round supply of fresh beef when nearly all the calves are born in one season?
This is where the backgrounder or stocker calf operator comes in. These types of cattlemen are the middleman between the rancher who produces the calves, and the feedlot where calves are fattened for slaughter. These cattlemen grow the calves on a lower energy diet so the calves grow more slowly. They also collect the calves into bigger groups so when a feedlot buys the calves they can fill an entire feedlot pen with a single group, rather than a mix of groups.
The difference between being a “backgrounder” or a “stocker” comes from how the calves are managed. If the calves are grazed, then the cattleman is referred to as a “stocker”. If the calves are fed in a confined pen, then the cattleman is a “backgrounder”. I don’t know who made this decision, but that’s the way it is.
Because both these types of cattlemen grow the calves more slowly, the calves are available for a feedlot to purchase at a different time other than the fall. Some calves go directly to the feedlot in the fall, but if they all did then we would have to store a lot more meat frozen, creating a bigger environmental footprint due to cold storage usage. One other thing to note, these stocker or backgrounder “middlemen” are not always a different person. Sometimes it is also a rancher or a feedlot owner that does this job too.
No matter how the calves get from the pasture to your plate, in between they often get to see a veterinarian like me. So I’ll just keep hopping from farm to farm working those calves to keep them healthy.