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Animal welfare assessment in cattle feedlots - A Review

The Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Cattle (the Code) was scheduled to be revised into the new format of Standards and Guidelines within 2-3 years of this report. Many of the current code guidelines were based on industry practice and knowledge, but there may be relatively little science that existed to underpin these requirements. It is important that industry knows which practices are supported by current scientific knowledge, and which are not, before embarking on the development of new Standards and Guidelines. 

This review was therefore undertaken to identify and critically evaluate the scientific knowledge currently available to underpin the key requirements for feedlot cattle in the welfare code. Further, a gap analysis was undertaken that identifies where additional research is required to support cattle feedlot welfare standards and to develop practical welfare measures for the feedlot industry. 

The objectives of this project were: 

1. Undertake a critical review of the global scientific knowledge pertaining to the welfare of feedlot cattle to: a. identify available scientific knowledge that underpins the requirements for feedlot cattle under the Model Code of Practice and; b. determine where there are gaps in the scientific knowledge needed to support objective animal welfare requirements for feedlot cattle in the development of new Australian Standards and Guidelines. 

​ 2. Provide recommendations for a program of research to address identified knowledge gaps, and validate easily applied measures that feedlot operators can use to demonstrate compliance with the animal welfare standards. The review focused on key factors influencing the welfare of feedlot cattle (including shedded cattle), with particular reference to: 

  • Pen stocking density 
  • Feed bunk access and space allowance 
  • Water trough access and allowance
  • Feedlot pad conditions 
  • Cold stress 


From the review, it was concluded that although there was a paucity of direct evidence on resource requirements for feedlot cattle, there was sufficient evidence to assert that a defensible scientific basis exists for feedlot guidelines with respect to the primary resources requirements of pen stocking density, feed bunk access and space allowance, water trough access and allowance, feedlot pad conditions and protection from cold stress. There were no obvious knowledge gaps with respect to these requirements and therefore, no immediate requirement for research. 

The lack of any specific animal health requirements within the current feedlot welfare code was viewed as a deficiency. It was recommended that the feedlot industry give consideration for the need for animal health requirements, specifically, maximum thresholds for mortality and morbidity within the code. Two approaches to identify these thresholds were suggested. There are very few practical welfare measures that could be applied by feedlot operators to demonstrate compliance with animal welfare standards. 

Of those that were considered, productivity measures should be evaluated. It was recognised that there may be other behavioural cues that experienced feedlot operators and staff rely on to identify a problem in individual or groups or animals and there would be value in exploring this further. In both instances, these measures or indicators will require validation and this could be achieved via a combination of industry benchmarking and targeted research experiments. 

​Finally, it was recommended that the feedlot industry consider the need to address potential criticisms of it in the future on the issue of animal contentment in confined or intensive husbandry systems. A strategy to address these challenges may include research examining whether there is equivalence (or a higher level) of animal contentment and other animal welfare outcomes in the feedlot environment compared with extensive environments.

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This page was last updated on 13/02/2017

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