If one has access to relatively inexpensive surplus feed (hay or silage), has some underutilized pasture, or has a non-farming neighbor who wants to keep their fields open, then a backgrounding project might be an ideal way to participate in the beef program.
A backgrounding project (also known a stocker operation), takes lightweight (450-600 pound) feeder steers and makes heavyweight (700-900 pounds) feeder steers out of them. This can be accomplished by feeding a low cost feed resource such as pasture or, after a good summer, surplus hay and silage. The 4-H member then has the option of selling the heavyweight steer to a cattle feeder, feeding it to market weight herself (or himself), or having it custom slaughtered for really lean beef.
A backgrounding or stocker project can be a lower investment, lower intensity experience compared to the showring market steer and when the feed is good, but truly inexpensive (say a unused pasture that has previously been mowed to keep the weeds down), then it can be profitable over a range of price situations. On the other hand, when expensive feed must be purchased and heavy feeders are going to be much cheaper per pound that light ones, then another project may be more suitable.
Contact: Dana Palmer