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What are the animal welfare issues of feedlots?

Feedlots are yarded areas where cattle and sheep, after having been raised on pasture, are held in groups in close confinement for a period before they are slaughtered. Food and water for the animals are supplied mechanically or by hand. Feedlots are used to ensure that cattle and sheep reach a specific weight before slaughter and to provide consistent meat quality and quantity to meet market needs. Feedlots may also be used during poor seasonal conditions (e.g. drought) to feed animals and ensure they reach market weight.

There are around 600 cattle feedlots in Australia, with the largest regional concentrations in mixed farming areas of New South Wales and southern Queensland. Most cattle feedlots are accredited under the National Feedlot Accreditation Scheme. Accredited feedlots must also adhere to the National Guidelines for Beef Cattle Feedlots in Australia as a guide for environmental best management practice. Accredited feedlots are independently audited on an annual basis to ensure compliance with NFAS and legislation.

A framework for the operation and management of sheep feedlots is available through the National Procedures and Guidelines for Intensive Sheep and Lamb Feeding Systems.

The RSPCA believes that the welfare of animals in feedlots is, in part, determined by the design and management of the facility. Feedlots should only be managed by trained and competent staff, and the facilities must at the very least be accredited under the National Feedlot Accreditation Scheme. Cattle will seek shade when it is available regardless of whether they are breeds adapted to hotter climates (Bos indicus) or southern breeds (Bos taurus) and feedlots should aim to provide shade to meet this need in a manner that doesn’t compromise the ability to dry out the pens following wet weather. To avoid foot problems, good drainage and a suitable hard standing area are important. On the other hand, when conditions are dusty, water spraying can help control dust levels in feedlots. Management of the feedlot should follow the advice of veterinarians and nutritionists experienced with feedlot animals. Stocking density should be managed to avoid respiratory disorders and diets adjusted to avoid digestive problems. Sick animals should be quickly identified and treated.

The welfare of animals in feedlots can be enhanced by using low-stress stock-handling methods, by providing enrichment (e.g. through physical exercise), and by providing adequate roughage in the diet (to allow animals to chew their cud).

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Updated on July 10, 2020
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