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Animal health

Feedlots and intensive finishing systems require good management to ensure the prevention of disease and the maintenance of good animal health and welfare. Of particular importance are nutritional, infectious and parasitic diseases.

Nutritional diseases

All ruminants, when confined and fed, have special dietary requirements that must be observed to ensure maximum production while maintaining good animal health. The basis of this management is maintaining good rumen function while maximising production.

While the incidence of nutritional diseases in Australian feedlots is very low, diseases to be aware of are acidosis and feedlot bloat.


Acidosis occurs in ruminants when they are introduced to grain too quickly or changed from one grain to another. In this situation, the rumen does not have time to adapt and excessive lactic acid is produced. Sub-clinical acidosis can cause reduced feed intake and production while more extreme cases can result in lameness (laminitis) and even death.

Rumen buffers, such as bentonite or sodium bicarbonate, can be fed, however, the best way to manage acidosis is to feed sufficient roughage and gradually introduce grain to the ration.

Feedlot bloat

Bloat can occur for several reasons in feedlots, but is usually associated with a nutritional imbalance, such as too much high quality lucerne hay, or as a result of acidosis. It is important to ensure that sufficient roughage is included in the diet, remembering that high quality lucerne hay does not always constitute roughage.

Infectious diseases

Lotfed livestock are vulnerable to a range of infectious diseases. For cattle bovine respiratory disease (BRD) is the most important. Other diseases, such as enterotoxaemia (pulpy kidney), can be effectively vaccinated against during backgrounding and induction.

Bovine respiratory disease

BRD is the most common cause of illness and death in Australian feedlot cattle, causing between 50% and 90% of all sickness and deaths. In addition to the costs associated with treatment, wasted feed and cattle deaths, BRD also results in performance losses due to decreased weight gain and feed conversion efficiency.

The disease is caused by a combination of infection and stress and usually occurs in the first four weeks after entry to the feedlot.

Lot feeders can reduce the incidence of BRD by:

  • Purchasing feeder cattle direct from breeders.
  • Purchasing feeder cattle from producers who yard wean calves.
  • Backgrounding cattle in groups prior to entry to the feedlot.
  • Vaccinating against respiratory pathogens during backgrounding.
  • Avoiding sudden food and water changes or restrictions.
  • Minimising pen add-ons and movements.
  • Regularly monitoring cattle for early signs of BRD.

Pulling suspect cattle early and moving them to a hospital pen for treatment.

Lameness and Foot Rot

Lameness and foot rot can be a problem if the feet of lot fed animals are damaged. Maintenance of the pen surface and good drainage in the pens (especially around water troughs) are essential elements to ensure feet problems and lameness are reduced.

Parasitic diseases

Most internal and external parasites that can cause disease in lot fed animals, such as lice and worms, can be effectively controlled during backgrounding and induction. In extreme cases during outbreaks, re-treatment may be required, however, this is rare. Feedlot flies come with the environment and are less easily controlled.

Feedlot flies

While a large variety of insects and mites can be found around feedlots, only a few of these are of concern. Flies are one such insect and can pose a problem due to their number, annoying behaviour, which can result in agitation and reduced feed intake, and disease carrying potential.

It is recommended that feedlot operators develop and implement an integrated pest management program to control nuisance flies on their feedlots. This should incorporate cultural, biological and chemical methods to provide cost-effective fly control with minimal insecticide usage.

An integrated control program for feedlot flies should involve the following rules:

  • Reducing fly breeding sites (manure, split feed, carcases)
  • Using insecticides selectively (targeted, rotate chemical groups)
  • Lotfeeding design principles (drainage, feed and water troughs, manure disposal)
  • Enhancing populations of biological control agents (encourage beneficial insects)
  • Systematic monitoring of fly populations (adult fly monitoring, larval counts)

The effective implementation of an integrated control program for nuisance flies in feedlots can lead to improved animal welfare and production gains.

More information