Producing grain fed beef
What is a fedlot?
After being raised on grass for the majority of their lives, many cattle are transitioned to a feedlot and fed a grain-based diet to help them reach their quality potential. Feedlots are professional purpose-built facilities that use sophisticated systems, backed by science, to feed cattle. The diet provided to grain fed cattle is specifically formulated by qualified nutritionists to supply the correct balance of energy, protein, fibre, minerals and vitamins for optimum growth.
At the beginning of their life, cattle are raised in a paddock grazing on grasses and pasture consuming a high-fibre diet. When they enter a feedlot, the cattle are slowly transitioned to a professionally formulated grain-based diet, containing essential nutrients. This gradual transition helps maintain their rumen (stomach) health along with their general wellbeing. The end result is beef of consistent quality that can be supplied all year round.
There are approximately 400 accredited feedlots in Australia supplying certified grain fed beef, predominantly located in regions that produce both cattle and grain. At any given time close to 4% of Australia’s cattle population are located in feedlots. Livestock spend an average of 50-120 days in a feedlot, yet depending on their breed and consumer tastes it can be as few as 35 days or as long as 400 days or more.
What do cattle eat in a feedlot?
The most common grains fed to cattle in Australian feedlots are wheat, barley and sorghum. Less frequently fed, due to their availability, are lupins, millet, rice, rye, triticale, corn and oats. Grains are either rolled or steam-flaked, fresh every day in a mill, in order to provide maximum nutrition that is easily digestible.
All commodities that enter a feedlot are quality tested before being accepted for cattle consumption. This ensures that all ingredients meet the high food safety standards dictated by the bodies that regulate ingredients that go into Australian livestock feeds.
There are several bodies that regulate the standards of ingredients that go into livestock feeds, to ensure the safety and quality of all ingredients for livestock, and for humans consuming meat:
Consuming grain is a nutritious option for cattle. Cattle feed needs to include adequate protein, high energy and fibre for natural cattle growth and development. To meet these requirements, seeds or plant products, energy foods such as molasses and fibre such as hay, are included in the diet of grain fed cattle. No animal by-products are fed to cattle in Australian feedlots – this is guaranteed and is a strict industry regulation.
The ingredients fed to livestock are often by-products from human food production, and are key to the productivity, sustainability and security of Australia’s food supply.
Livestock has received attention in recent years in relation to animal feed production competing for land and other resources with human food production.
Of the plant material fed to livestock, 86% would be inedible by humans directly but when fed to livestock is converted into valuable food for human consumption and contributes greatly to food and nutrition security. (Source)
Australian lot feeders take quality very seriously
In 1994, the National Feedlot Accreditation Scheme (NFAS) was established to provide independent quality assurances to purchasers of grain fed beef and set standards for producers. The primary objective of NFAS is to set and maintain standards across animal welfare, environmental management, product safety and product integrity of grain fed beef. Only accredited feedlots working to the NFAS guidelines produce certified grain fed beef.
Beef can be marketed as “certified Australian grain fed beef” only when sourced from an NFAS accredited feedlot. For a feedlot to gain accreditation they need to meet a number of set criteria and hold relevant approvals to build a feedlot that meets environmental regulations. They are independently audited annually to ensure they continue to meet animal welfare, environmental management, product safety and product integrity standards. This ensures that beef labeled “grain fed” meets industry standards and quality is not compromised.
How long has Australia been producing grain fed beef?
The feedlot industry in Australia emerged in the 1950’s when forward thinking cattle producers began looking for innovative ways to maintain a supply of consistent beef when seasonal variations were at play. As the cropping industry also grew, it became clear that the ability to access abundant raw materials and plant by-products as feed ingredients for livestock presented an opportunity to provide consistent quality beef all year round.
NFAS sets the standards
The National Feedlot Accreditation Scheme (NFAS) was founded in 1994 as the quality management system that underpins the integrity of Australian grain fed beef as a safe and responsibly-farmed beef offering.
NFAS is an independently audited quality assurance program for the Australian lot feeding industry that was initiated by the Australian Lot Feeders’ Association (ALFA) and is managed by AUS-MEAT through the Feedlot Industry Accreditation Committee (FLIAC).
The sourcing of livestock from NFAS Accredited feedlots is a prerequisite for beef processed in AUS-MEAT accredited processing establishments being marketed as Grain Fed (GF) or Grain Fed Young Beef (GFYG) or Grain Fed Finished (GFF).
Every year, all 400-plus NFAS-accredited feedlots are independently audited.
Feedlots nourish local communities
In many rural regions throughout Australia, feedlots are the backbone of the local community. The majority of feedlots are family owned and support local schools, community groups and the like.
There are over 400 accredited feedlots throughout regional Australia, each directly employing large numbers of local qualified professionals. Indirectly there are thousands of people who are supported by the feedlot industry. Almost 30,000 people are employed either directly or indirectly by the Australian feedlot industry. (Source)
With beef being Australia’s largest agricultural export commodity, (Source) the importance of the feedlot sector is evident. It is estimated that the feedlot industry contributes over $4.4 billion (Source) to the Australian economy annually, an amazing contribution considering that the industry is essentially made up of small, family owned businesses.