You've reached the Virginia Cooperative Extension Newsletter Archive. These files cover more than ten years of newsletters posted on our old website (through April/May 2009), and are provided for historical purposes only. As such, they may contain out-of-date references and broken links.

To see our latest newsletters and current information, visit our website at

Newsletter Archive index:

Virginia Cooperative Extension -
 Knowledge for the CommonWealth

Byproduct Feeds can be Self Fed to Backgrounding Calves

Livestock Update, September 2002

Mark Wahlberg, Extension Animal Scientist, 4-H Livestock, VA Tech

Backgrounding calves prior to them entering feedlots is a sound management practice. Extra pounds are put on the calves during an efficient stage of their life, they become adapted to feed, water, confinement conditions, and they overcome weaning and health challenges. Traditionally, cattle are managed to gain at moderate rates with diets having fairly high forage levels. Certain byproduct feeds are available which have had the starch removed, leaving behind a highly digestible material that consists mostly of fiber. These feeds, including soy hulls, corn gluten feed, and wheat middlings, were investigated in a couple of studies recently reported by the researchers.

A group of North Dakota scientists used crossbred heifers starting at 620 pounds in a backgrounding study. One ration consisted of a Total Mixed Ration (TMR) containing 48% grass hay, 48% wheat middlings, and 4% supplement. This was compared to a group offered self fed chopped hay in a fence line bunk and wheat middlings (consisting of 93.2% wheat midds and 6.8% supplement) available at all times in a portable creep feeder. Supplements were formulated such that the total diet had a Calcium:Phosphorous ration of 1.5:1.

The TMR group consumed 9.25 pounds of hay and 9.44 pounds of wheat midds, with a total feed intake of 18.9 pounds. They gained 1.88 pounds per day. The self fed group ate 9.54 pounds of hay and 8.6 pounds of wheat midds, with total feed intake of 18.7 pounds. Their Average Daily Gain was 1.77 pounds.

The researchers reported no digestive upsets or other major health problems.

Dr. Matt Poore at North Carolina State University investigated 3 different byproduct feeds offered in self feeders to calves with a beginning weight of 510 pounds. A control group received free choice hay plus a high calcium mineral supplement. Other groups received increasing amounts of grain byproducts for one week, then all they would consume of self fed byproducts for the balance of the 84 day trial. Chopped hay was available to the calves in a feed bunk as well. Byproducts used were soy hulls, corn gluten feed, and wheat middlings. None of the byproducts were pelleted.

Results of the trial are in the table below.
  Hay Intake Lb Total Intake Lb Supplement Intake, Lb ADG Lb
Hay Only 12.70 12.81 0.11 1.39
Soy Hull 4.08 23.35 19.27 3.31
Corn Gluten Feed 6.68 20.35 13.67 2.93
Wheat Midds 4.32 16.93 12.61 2.23

There were no health problems with the cattle for any reason. The self feeder was cleaned often and spoiled feed was discarded. Dr. Poore repeated this work last winter (Unpublished) and again saw extremely high intakes and gains by cattle that were self fed these 3 supplements.

I would recommend a few cautionary management practices for producers who wish to self feed cattle using one of these high fiber byproduct feeds. Because of the risk of bloat it would be wise to use a free-choice mineral that contains an ionophore, either Bovatec or Rumensin. Again, with bloat risk a real possibility, do not let hay run out. Make sure that cattle have access to pretty good quality hay all the time. The key point is to make sure cattle have adequate fiber intake, and hay or pasture can be used to provide this fiber. Although a producer may not experience the high intake and high rate of gain seen in this North Carolina trial, cattle will still gain fairly quickly, and get pretty fleshy. Consequently, producers may want to use this program for a shorter period of time (6 to 8 weeks) rather than the 12 weeks in this trial. However, this would appear to be an excellent feeding program to prepare cattle for the feedlot.

Self feeding of high fiber byproducts is a very labor-efficient way to background cattle. Dry hay or pasture of at least medium quality must be available to the calves at all times. Supplements must contain a high calcium level, and ionophores are recommended. Management of the self feeder to keep feed clean and dry to entice cattle to eat at high rates will generate fast and efficient gains.


Gilbery, TC, GP Lardy, ML Bauer, B Kreft, and J Dhuyvetter. 2000. Self-fed Wheat Middlings in backgrounding diets for beef heifers. North Dakota Beef Cattle and Range Research Report, p 25-26.

Poore, MH. 2002. Self-feeding byproduct commodities to beef calves. J. Anim Sci. Vol 80, Suppl 2, p 20.

Visit Virginia Cooperative Extension