Advantages and disadvantages of a feedlot

Despite some of the disadvantages of feedlot, it plays an important role in the economical rearing of beef cattle and dairy cattle. Using the feedlot is the most economical way to raise cattle in large numbers for feed production. Considering animal welfare aspects, it is important to get involved in creating such an object after careful planning.

A feedlot or feed yard is a type of animal feeding operation (AFO) which is used in intensive animal farming. Large beef feedlots are called concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) in the United States and intensive livestock operations (ILOs) or confined feeding operations (CFO) in Canada. They may contain thousands of animals in an array of pens.

Grass feed vs feedlot

Consumers tend to believe that “grass-fed” beef is more environmentally friendly and ethical than beef produced from feed. But is that really the case? Contrary to popular belief, though, feedlots are not necessarily the villains – environmental or otherwise – they are made out to be. By many standards, grain-finishing systems come with less environmental impact than grass-finishing ones. Any health distinctions between the two, further, are likely too small to make a difference. Grass-fed beef may contain nominally more nutrients and omega-3 fats than grain-fed, but not in nutritionally significant amounts. As with environmental impact, the question of animal welfare needs not come down to the distinction between pasture and feedlot.

If we truly want to produce beef responsibly — to ensure better outcomes for the environment and the cows — we’ll need to reconsider the facts and the future of feedlots. By many standards, grain-finishing systems come with less environmental impact than grass-finishing ones. Over the past half-century, feedlots have continued to improve efficiency-wise, generating more beef per animal in a shorter period of time, and this higher productivity has resulted in lower environmental impacts per pound of beef, especially when compared with grass-finishing systems.

Most of the beef consumed in the United States comes from such feedlots, where cattle arrive after living for six months on pasture and grass to be finished for another six months or so on a diet of corn and other grains. Despite a resurgence of grass-fed beef since the turn of the century, around 97 percent of beef sold in grocery stores comes from grain-fed cattle, around 28 million of them per year). Three-quarters of this beef came from feedlots with a capacity of 1,000 or more cows.

What you need to know about feedlot

 A CAFO or feedlot is an agriculturally based operation in which animals are cared for and/or raised in confinement. Cattle raised on feedlots typically feed, defecate, urinate, and sleep in one small area. Cattle raised on feedlots have food delivered to them and are not usually allowed to graze on grass pastures, fields, or rangelands. Many feedlots throughout the U.S. house as many as 100,000 animals.

Feedlots are dry, roomy, and shaded can also make for content cattle, especially when compared to pasture systems not equipped with shade or protection from extreme weather conditions. In this sense, confinement provides a degree of comfort and protection, so long as pens are kept dry, clean, and relatively roomy.

Advantages and disadvantages

The biggest advantage in feedlots is they are the most economical way to raise a large number of cattle for beef production. Animals housed on feedlots are fed mostly corn and/or corn products which means they are raised on less land which cuts costs. Factory type farming allows for maximum production at minimum costs. Cattle raised on feedlots will consume between 2.5 and 4 pounds of corn daily. On this diet, cattle typically gain 1 pound for every 6 pounds of grain consumed. When cattle are housed on feedlots, workers, managers, and/or farmers may monitor animals more closely.

Disadvantage of feedlots is that cattle stand in small, crowded areas in their own feces and urine all the time. Another big concern and/or disadvantage of CAFO’s is E.coli contamination. Cattle that are fed a high corn based diet can have increased amounts of E.coli in their digestive tract. Cross contamination with E.coli can cause illness not only in animals, but in humans as well.

One year

A cow is likely to be at a feedlot a little under a year. Some feedlots prefer to slaughter at a lower weight in order to get a leaner product. Forage-finished calves will often be slaughtered near 1,000 pounds live weight. It will take over a year (367 days) to grow a 500-pound calf to 1,000 pounds if its average daily weight gain is 1.5 pounds per day.

If it is commercial they generally slaughter cows around 1200-1300lbs. Also, the weight of the calf when entering the feedlot and its average daily weight gain would determine how long. The average weight entering a feedlot is 600lbs and a 2-3lb per day weight gain.

Planning a new cattle feedlot

 Given the pros and cons, before setting up a new feedlot, it is important to carefully plan to choose the most ideal solution from an environmental, economic and animal welfare point of view. Construction of a new feedlot or expansion of an existing feedlot requires adequate planning. The goals of feedlots are they may be different. The goal to be achieved can be to minimize animal and worker stress during handling, feed cattle in an adequate and efficient manner, provide a well-drained production area for cattle, or to maintain a feedlot surface that is clean and minimizes odors.

Governmental approval, professional engineer

 Most feedlots require some type of governmental approval to operate, which generally consists of an agricultural site permit. Feedlots also would have an environmental plan in place to deal with the large amount of waste that is generated from the numerous livestock housed.

Whenever you’re expanding or constructing a new feedlot, it’s worth consulting with a licensed professional engineer and other relevant consultants. Depending on the size of the facility and the potential hazard to surface water and groundwater, a licensed professional engineer may be required. (Even if not required, it is always a good idea to use one.)

Do not build a new feedlot without planning for a waste control facility! Check local zoning regulations before con-structuring a facility and observe required setback requirements. Careful planning and forethought are needed to ensure the facility is environmentally sound and becomes a useful and long-term component in your farming operation. Producers must address human, cattle, and environmental issues to provide safe, efficient, and productive feedlots. Proper planning and the advice of a professional can go a long way toward making a new feedlot an environmentally friendly and economical enterprise. Lack of planning has placed many feedlots in risky problematic situations.

A feedlot must be appropriately sited to ensure its economic viability, environmental sustainability, and management performance. Poor site selection can complicate the approval process and lead to costly license conditions. It may also significantly increase capital costs (e.g. through excess earthworks or high infrastructure costs) and operating costs through long distances for transporting commodities, livestock, or finished cattle.

After a site has been selected, the feedlot layout must be planned. This is the main opportunity to maximize operational efficiency and livestock performance whilst minimizing initial capital and ongoing maintenance costs. Plans should also allow for potential expansion.

1 acre of land is required per 100 head of cattle

 Stocking density has a significant influence on the environmental performance of a feedlot since it partly determines the average moisture content of the pad. Every day, cattle add moisture to the pen surface by depositing manure (feces and urine). The chosen stocking density that should achieve a balance between a pen surface that is, on average, too dry and one that is too wet depends on local climate and cattle size.

Approximately 1 acre of land is required per 100 head of cattle for pen space, alleys and feed roads and 1/4 to 1 acre of land per 100 head of cattle is required for the waste control facility, depending on the type of system. All extraneous runoff needs to be diverted away from the feedlots and roads.

The stocking density chosen will also determine the size and number of pens required and hence have a significant impact on construction and operational costs.

Feed bunk length can vary from 200mm/head to over 300mm/head. The 300mm bunk requires 50% more volume of concrete per head than the 200mm bunk and hence influences the capital cost. Bunk length per head, along with stocking density, determines the width and depth of the pens.

Suggested pen space requirements
Suggested pen space requirements

Water supply

Ensuring a continuous water supply is also a key factor in the design. Water for feedlots can be obtained from a number of different sources. These may be surface water such as creeks, rivers, dams, channels, and land surface diversions, or groundwater which can be shallow or deep artesian bores. Whatever the source, the suitability of water that the site has available and the predicted water required for the future will depend on its quantity, quality, and reliability. As intensively-fed beef cattle must have an uninterrupted supply of clean water, every feedlot should have contingency plans for pump or pipeline failure. Water supply may be interrupted for many hours or even days due to natural disasters (damage to infrastructure), electricity blackouts, pump, or pipeline failure. A temporary emergency (back-up) water supply and suitably sized water storage close to the feedlot are essential.

If you need help

There are some companies that might help with building a feedlot, we collected just a few examples from the US (Settje, Blattner, Weirich Welding Plus) and Australia (Entegra, Spanlift).

Focus on profitable operation

 The feedlot profit margin is a function of price margin, feed margin, and other expenses. Adding these three together indicates profit or loss for the period over which the calculation is made.

A feedlot manager should keep a close watch on feedlot profit, which is a highly sensitive measure of the efficiency of management.

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