What happens in a feedlot

Feedlots, no bull

There are around 600 accredited beef cattle feedlots in Australia, the majority of which are family owned and run. In Australia, cattle spend most of their lives on pasture and are generally taken into feedlots when pasture conditions are not adequate enough to nourish cattle to the optimum weight during drought seasons and hotter parts of the year. Grain feeding is an important factor in the industry’s ability to supply a consistent quality and quantity of beef to market.

The feedlot story

- Cattle are transported to feedlots by truck. Animal welfare is of key importance during this process and is governed by legislation that ensures cattle travel as little distance as possible and with care.

- Once on the feedlot, cattle are inducted, a process that identifies each animal and records breed, age and weight, allowing similar breeds to be grouped together.

- Cattle are checked to ensure they are free of parasites and pests before being introduced into the lot.

- Depending on customer requirements, Hormone Growth Promotants (HGP’s) may be administered. HGP’s are naturally occurring hormones used by some grain and grass fed producers to help cattle reach their goal weight. HGP’s have been used by the Australian beef industry for over 30 years and are approved by the World Health Organisation and the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority as safe for both consumers and cattle.   

-  Cattle are then placed in a yard with other animals of the same breed, age, weight and likely market destination.   Each yard is up to 6,000m2 in size – enough space for all cattle to behave naturally in terms of movement and interaction.

- Plentiful clean fresh water and feed are available to cattle 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and feed is formulated by nutritionists depending on how long the cattle will stay on the lot. The average length of stay is generally between 50-120 days.

- Cattle are constantly supervised during their stay.  Alongside qualified veterinarians, key members of staff are trained in animal welfare, husbandry and handling, so that the safety and comfort of the cattle is maintained and if any animals are sick they are quickly are identified, separated, treated and returned to the herd once a clean bill of health is issued.

- Feedlot cattle are protected from floods, fire, droughts and wild animals, so mortality levels are significantly lower than in extensive grazing systems.

- The cleanliness of feedlots is important, not only for animal welfare but also in terms of upholding environmental standards. Cattle waste is regularly removed from yards and then composted and sold as valuable soil conditioner to farms, nurseries and market gardens, while runoff from yards is collected in ponds and used to irrigate crops.

- Once cattle reach their goal market weight, they are transported for processing. Animal stress and wellbeing is of prime consideration here, as it can affect the eventual quality of the product. Transport is minimised, as is exposure new herds and environments.