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B.FLT.0328 - Environmental Sustainability Assessment of the Australian Feedlot Industry

The Australian red meat industry, as with most primary industries, is coming under increasing pressure from both the community and government to document and justify its impacts on the environment. Currently, a lack of credible supply chain data prevents the industry from being able to respond in a meaningful manner. Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) is undertaking a project (COMP.094) that will address these issues and provide credible data on the industry's environmental impacts and sustainability for use by industry, including its interactions with government, community groups and the media. This project will use the standardised tool, Life Cycle Analysis (LCA), to quantify natural resource consumption and environmental interventions to water, soil and air.

LCA is a form of cradle-to-grave system analysis developed for use in manufacturing and processing industries to assess the environmental impacts of products, processes and activities by quantifying their environmental effects throughout their entire life cycles. An LCA is essentially a quantitative study. Sometimes environmental impacts cannot be quantified because of a lack of data or inadequate impact assessment models. Quantitative analysis requires standardised databases of main processes (e.g. energy, transport) and software for managing the study's complexity. As part of the overall industry project, the beef cattle lotfeeding sector is undertaking a related MLA project (FLOT.328) that will contribute to the whole of industry dataset, but more importantly addresses the public misconceptions concerning the environmental sustainability of the feedlot industry. It will identify and quantify the environmental costs associated with the production of one kilogram of grained beef to enable comparison with its domestic competing products (grass fed beef, lamb, pig and poultry meats).

This report has been prepared as part of FLOT.328. This report covers the issue of clean water usage by cattle feedlots. It provides factual information on the volume of clean water used at Australian cattle feedlots under a range of climatic, size and management conditions. Factual information data on water use was obtained via a detailed on-line survey of feedlot inputs and outputs including cattle numbers, intake and sale weights, dressing percentages. Annual water usage was estimated on the basis of one kilogram of dressed hot standard carcass weight gain (kg HSCW gain). In this context, HSCW gain is the difference between total dressed carcass weights of cattle leaving the feedlot less the estimated total dressed carcass weight of cattle entering the feedlot. Little work has been undertaken to evaluate total water consumption by feedlots. The amount of drinking water used at feedlots has been studied in North America in the 1980's. To date, only a limited amount of research into drinking water requirements has been undertaken in Australia. Water is both the most important nutrient for cattle and the most valuable natural resource (after land) in Australia. Hence, it is of critical importance to lot feeders.

Results show that total annual water use ranges from 34 L/kg hot standard carcass weight (HSCW) gain to 381 L/kg HSCW gain with a median value of 73 L/kg HSCW gain over the nine feedlots studied. The main influence on the total annual water use is the quantity of water used for dilution of effluent for irrigation. In feedlots with a capacity or need for using clean water for irrigation, a substantial increase in annual water use per kg/ HSCW gain was found. Variation between feedlots may be explained by management operations including frequency of trough cleaning, cattle washing, dust control and feed processing. Whilst, total annual clean water records by lot feeders are usually good, little data exists on actual usage levels in individual components viz drinking water, feed processing, cattle washing. More information is required on the water usage of individual components before these figures can be reliably reported.

The outcomes of this study will allow the feedlot industry to develop a better understanding of the total annual water usage relativity and contributions that various feedlot sector operations have on annual clean water usage. This information is invaluable for future design and management considerations. The data presented in this report was used as inputs into the life cycle inventory for the clean water use component of the feedlot sub-system.


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Contract No. Title Start date End date Funding type
Environmental Sustainability Assessment of the Australian Feedlot Industry
15/04/2005 30/06/2006

This page was last updated on 18/10/2019