Feedlots are intensive farming operations where animals are housed outdoors in confined spaces. Already very prevalent in the United States and other countries, they are becoming increasingly common in New Zealand as farmers are choosing to intensify their farming practises.
Feedlots require local government consents, but legal loopholes and lack of monitoring mean councils have not always kept on top of the number of feedlots in operation.
Most feedlots are used to ‘finish’ or ‘fatten’ cattle who are then killed for meat. Other feedlots are used to get sheep or cows used for dairy, accustomed to confinement and unnatural diets prior to live export.
The amount of space allotted to cattle in a feedlot is significantly less than that in a paddock, so their movement is limited. Although outdoors, there is no grass. Instead, the ground may be bare earth, sand, or even concrete. This means cattle cannot express the grazing behaviour which they would normally undertake for around eight hours each day. Instead, they are fed on a diet which can include grain and palm kernel.
Additionally, shelter on feedlots is often limited or completely absent, leaving animals exposed to extremes of weather. The lack of shelter breaches the Animal Welfare Act.
Cattle housed in the densely stocked and barren environment of the feedlot often become bored. Dominant cattle can bully less confident animals, and some can have difficulty accessing the feed, due to their shy behaviour.
The aim of a feedlot is to grow cattle quickly. For this reason, they are fed an unnatural diet of grain, instead of their normal pasture-based food. This diet can be difficult for cattle to adjust to and can cause problems such as bloating, diarrhoea, and digestive discomfort.
The use of feedlots by famers causes unnecessary stress and discomfort to cattle used in the beef industry. They severely limit the natural behaviours of these animals and can have other negative health impacts.