Feedlot cattle welfare under scrutiny at beef forum

Jon Condon, 06/08/2014

A beef forum being convened by the Graham Centre research alliance at Wagga next month will focus on issues surrounding animal welfare in the feedlot industry.

“Lotfeeding cattle raises a variety of potential welfare concerns associated with the inability of cattle to express their full repertoire of natural behaviours, such as grazing, when confined in a feedlot environment,” a statement issued yesterday by the organisers said.

The Graham Centre is a research alliance between Charles Sturt University and the NSW Department of Primary Industries.

Some specific feedlot-related animal welfare issues had already been well investigated, such as the appropriate provision of space and feed, how best to manage and limit the effects of heat stress and understanding effective ration feeding to maximise growth and reduce the risks of acidosis, the statement said. However it suggested other welfare issues associated with lotfeeding were harder to address.

Dr Rebecca Doyle, a research fellow specialising in animal welfare at CSU, said behavioural traits could be more difficult to address.

“When cattle enter the feedlot environment for the first time, they are exposed to a significant number of changes in a short period,” she said.

“Following arrival, it is common for cattle to be mixed with unfamiliar animals. Mixing groups of cattle can result in a significant increase in antagonistic interactions in the period that immediately follows. As well as having to establish new social dynamics, cattle reside in closer proximity to each other than they would naturally, further exacerbating these social changes.”

“The ability of cattle to remember social structure in large populations and at increased densities is also reduced,” Dr Doyle said.

The feedlot environment introduced cattle to a variety of novel situations, she suggested.

“The induction processes at the feedlot are novel, as are the change in feed type and learning to eat from troughs that are likely to be unfamiliar to them.  As is common to all prey species, novelty provides a source of fear, and these multiple novel situations combine to create a stressful environment for cattle.”

How individual animals react to these social and environmental changes was partly driven by their temperament. Cattle with good temperament repeatedly demonstrated superior average daily gains and feed conversions compared with cattle with poor temperaments.

“Temperament can only be modified through genetic selection, but the type of handling and frequency of exposure to situations can influence the behaviour of cattle,” Dr Doyle said.

“The human/animal relationship is commonly identified as the most important factor influencing the welfare of cattle. This highlights the importance of high-quality handling in the feedlot and on-farm for productivity,” she said.

Dr Doyle will outline some novel research looking at the preferences cattle have for feedlot and pasture environments and discuss potential welfare concerns for cattle in a feedlot environment at a Beef Forum being held at the Charles Sturt University Convention Centre on Friday 15 August.

Producers attending the forum will also hear about:

  • managing the challenges of volatile seasons and markets in beef production
  • online processing technologies for predicting carcase and meat quality and what this means for producers
  • opportunity and drought feedlots – practical experience and examples of making it work, and
  • livestock producers understanding and approach to the control of pestivirus in eastern Australia.

The forum is being run in conjunction with Local Land Services Riverina with sponsorship contributed from Animal Health Australia, National Australia Bank, MLA More Beef from Pastures, Teys Australia, Regional Development Australia, Ancare and Riverina Cooperative.

  • Registrations and further information can be accessed here, or by contacting Toni Nugent, bfd@csu.edu.au or phone 02 6933 4402.



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