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MLA launches manual for covered housing systems in Australian feedlots

04 March 2024

Australian lot feeders have access to a new manual that can help them weigh up the different options and considerations for covered housing systems. 

Climatic variability, combined with the Australian lot feeding industry’s shade and shelter initiative have driven unprecedented interest in covered and partially covered housing systems and their application to the Australian lot feeding industry. 

To help the Australian lot feeding industry evaluate different options, Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) has launched the ‘Feedlot covered housing systems: Best practice design and management manual.’

Dr Matt Van der Saag, Project Manager, Feedlot & Sustainability at MLA, announced the launch of the manual at the Australian Lot Feeders’ Association’s (ALFA) SmartBeef event in Tamworth, NSW on October 12. 

“The manual is built upon the best available knowledge from around the world for these systems, along with knowledge gained from visits to a variety of covered housing systems operational in Australia,” Matt said.

“The manual details design, construction, bedding, manure management, welfare standards, animal health considerations, and costs of these systems compared to best practice unshaded feedlot pens.”

Many Australian feedlots have already installed shade systems. The Australian Lot Feeders’ Association (ALFA) indicates that almost 70% of feedlot cattle capacity has shade or shelter already, and that there is increased interest in covering the pens with solid, waterproof roofing that may be installed over part of the pen or the entire pen. This was a key consideration when the manual was being developed.

The creation of the manual came following site visits with lot feeders using covered or partially covered facilities in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia and Tasmania.

MLA and ALFA also ran two ‘Going Under Cover’ events for the feedlot sector to over 148 feedlot stakeholders in Western Australia in March 2023 and Victoria/South Australia in May 2023.

The events aimed to drive adoption of shade and shelter in Australian feedlots by showcasing examples of shelter in use at a variety of feedlots and the productivity and animal welfare benefits they have experienced.

The manual also provides siting and design guidance that will be useful for any business planning to install a covered housing system under Australian conditions.

“The manual also contains important information regarding welfare standards, animal health considerations as well as state-by-state regulatory approvals that need to be adhered to, and the all-important costs discussion,” Matt said. 

“Ultimately, this manual is an important resource for the modification or construction of feedlots. We would encourage all those interested to review the information, as the potential benefits of covered housing systems for cattle are significant.”

For feedlots who have already implemented fully covered shade systems, the benefits have been numerous. These may include improved animal wellbeing outcomes for cattle, but also improvements in feed efficiency and carcase weight, as well as cleaner cattle for presentation at slaughter.