Feedlots play a huge but controversial role in raising beef cattle in Australia. The sector has grown, with approximately 40% of Australia's total beef supply sourced from feedlot animals. The feedlot sector has grown over the past 20 years to become a $2.7 billion industry. Recent information shows that 80% of all beef sold in the majority of Australian supermarkets is cattle feedlot sourced. Currently, there are around 600 feedlots throughout Australia, with the majority located in farming states and territories like New South Wales and Southern Queensland.
While feedlots help "drought-proof" Australia's beef industry by ensuring a constant beef supply to domestic and international markets, there are growing concerns about animal welfare and its effect on the environment. Before we explore these concerns and more, let's first define what feedlots are.
What are Cattle Feedlots?
Feedlots are yarded areas where cattle, after being raised on pasture, are held in close confinement and fed in groups until they reach certain weights prior to being slaughtered. Here, cattle live in tightly confined spaces with hundreds if not thousands of other cows; they are fed excessive amounts of feeds and receive copious amounts of drugs (i.e., antibiotics) to keep them uncontaminated and alive.
Although the industry is regulated and claims it follows environmental safety standards, in most cases, animals' welfare in feedlots is mostly determined by the facility's management. This leaves a huge gap for lapses in animal welfare and environmental concerns.
- Unhealthy Environments
Feedlots are fenced-in outdoor areas where cows are crammed together to prevent them from exercising and obstructing the fattening process. The spaces are barren, lacking grass for cows to graze and trees for shade. Cattle have to stand in these small crowded areas in the ruminants of their own urine and faeces.
Feedlots can get very muddy when it rains, causing cows to become wet, cold, and dirty. When it gets hot during droughts or summer, the lots become dusty and dry. With the lack of shade coupled with excessive weight brought on by being fed increasingly heavy diets, cows often experience heat stress problems that can sometimes prove fatal. Currently, there's no legal requirement for farmers to provide shelter to cows in feedlots.
Feedlots produce huge amounts of animal waste and other pollutants that can be harmful to the environment. Feedlot waste is likely to contain cleaning agents, silage leachate, chemicals used in livestock care, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, ammonia, heavy metals, and milkhouse waste.
This waste is often stored for a while in waste storage pits or structures before disposal on farm fields. This is where feedlot waste enters surface water, contaminating it, causing water pollution. Runoff of feedlot waste into water streams can be detrimental to fish and other aquatic life and can cause "dead zones" in coastal areas. Feedlots also cause air pollution due to ammonia, particulate matter, odour, greenhouse gases, and volatile organic compounds emissions.
- Artificial Diets
In natural environments, cows spend up to 12 hours grazing on grass; in a feedlot, they are fed a high-energy, high-fat diet of barley and wheat. However, the cow's digestive system isn't designed to continually consume corn or grain products, causing them to get sick often. As a result, they're given a constant dose of antibiotics. Animals in feedlots are fed in this manner in order to reach the market weight requirements.
- E. Coli Contamination
E.coli bacteria are often found in animal waste, and since feedlots confine cows to small spaces filled with feacal matter, E. coli contamination is inevitable. Cows that are fed a high corn diet also have increased E. coli amounts in their digestive tracts. E- Coli contamination can cause illness in animals as well as humans.
- Injury, Illness, and Early Death
Animals can suffer a wide range of injuries and illnesses in feedlots caused by the feedlot environment, dehydration, stress, unnatural diets, and transportation. The most common diseases include acidosis, botulism, bovine respiratory disease, pink eye (blight), footrot, tick fever, and feedlot bloating.
Although most of these diseases are treatable, due to a large number of cows in the feedlot, sick cows might not be identified early, resulting in death.
Confining animals in small areas where they can't naturally graze as they should go against everything we stand for at Castle Estate. We believe animals must be free to roam and graze as nature intended- grass only, not grain-fed in lots. Grass-fed beef is also better than grain-fed beef as it has significantly lower levels of saturated fat and is higher in nutrients and antioxidants. But with 80% of all beef sold in the majority of domestic supermarkets sourced from the cattle feedlot sector, your best bet is to avoid buying meat from the supermarket. Order your weekly meat from Castle Estate.com.au.