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The role of feedlots in the Australian beef industry

Feedlots are purpose-built facilities where livestock are provided with a balanced grain-based diet to help them reach their quality potential. All aspects of their welfare are planned and monitored by trained staff in this highly-regulated industry.

In Australia, most cattle begin their lives in a paddock, grazing on high-fibre grasses and pasture. After spending most of their lives in a pasture-based environment, about one third of the cattle herd are transitioned to a feedlot, where they’re fed a nutritious grain-based diet that provides the right balance of carbohydrates, protein, fibre, minerals and vitamins for optimum growth.

This enables the industry to supply beef of a consistent quality all year round, regardless of environmental conditions. It also means that beef can be produced with less land and less water. Additionally, cattle on grain-based diets at feedlots reach their ideal weights more quickly than they would on grass. Less time on grass results in a measurable reduction in carbon emissions.

Almost four per cent of Australian cattle are in feedlots at any given time, with livestock spending an average of 50-120 days in a feedlot, depending on their breed and consumer tastes for qualities such as marbling.

The Australian feedlot industry is very important to the Australian economy. In 2017, the industry contributed $4.4 billion to gross domestic product and over 30,000 jobs with most feedlots family-owned businesses committed to ensuring animal wellbeing:



How do feedlots look after their livestock?

For grainfed beef producers, it’s essential that livestock are well cared for from the time they arrive at the feedlot to the time they leave. Ensuring good animal health and wellbeing in feedlots means that livestock are:

  • regularly monitored so any animal welfare risks are identified early and managed quickly and effectively
  • well cared for by veterinarians and nutritionists so they remain healthy while in the feedlot
  • transported and moved using low-stress stock handling techniques.

Feedlots are also proactive when it comes to protecting livestock from heat stress via the installation of shade structures and additional water troughs, or altered bedding and manure and waste management practices that to help mitigate the effects of hot weather on cattle.


What rules and regulations apply to Australian feedlots?

Feedlots in Australia are highly regulated and independently audited. They must follow regulations mandated by federal, state and territory animal welfare, environment, waste and planning legislation.

  • Environmental legislation – imposes management and licensing requirements (e.g. annual soil and water testing and reporting), along with penalties to prevent water, air and noise pollution.
  • Waste legislation – provides a framework for managing waste to ensure the industry remains environmentally sustainable. Elements range from waste avoidance to re-use, recycling and energy recovery through to waste disposal.
  • Planning legislation – stipulates the planning conditions to minimise the development’s impact upon the environment and surrounding community.
  • Animal welfare standards – essential requirements that are outlined in the Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines and form the basis for developing and implementing consistent legislation and enforcement across Australia.

In addition, the National Feedlot Accreditation Scheme provides a further layer of strict requirements on feedlots, ensuring quality standards are met across animal welfare, traceability and food safety, environmental standards and product quality. Accreditation is needed for meat being officially marketed as ‘grain fed’ in both domestic and overseas markets. Over 400 feedlots (the majority of feedlots in Australia) are accredited under the Scheme.

Did you know?

  • On average cattle spend 50-120 days in a feedlot, but depending on their breed and consumer preferences it can be as few as 35 days or as long as 400 days or more.
  • Stocking density in feedlots is managed in the range of 9 to 25 square metres per head, which is ample space for cattle to exhibit all their normal behavioural characteristics, such as exercising, socialising, resting and chewing their cud.
  • To help cattle adjust from the paddock to the feedlot, they’re grouped into ‘social groups’ on the farm. Cattle will then stay in these groups in the feedlot to help minimise stress.