Beef calves backgrounded on swathed barley or foxtail millet in winter performed as well or better than calves fed grass-legume hay in a feedlot.

In the two-year University of Saskatchewan study, 120 spring-born Angus calves were fall-weaned, allocated into 20-head groups and randomly assigned to three replicated backgrounding systems. They limit-grazed swathed barley or foxtail millet for 96 days each year or were fed ground hay in a drylot. All groups also received pelleted supplement at 0.62% of body weight.

Calves were weighed at the start of the trial, every 21 days and at the end of the backgrounding period. Forage samples were collected every 21 days and analyzed for dry matter, crude protein and digestible energy.

The researchers report that dry matter was highest in the swathed barley and lowest in the dry hay. Dry matter and crude protein degradability were highest for barley, but millet had higher NDF degradability. Average daily gain was highest for calves on swathed barley.