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Beef cattle on a feedlot in the Texas Panhandle

A feedlot or feedyard is a type of animal feeding operation (AFO) which is used for finishing livestock, notably beef cattle, prior to slaughter. Large beef feedlots are called Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). They may contain thousands of animals in an array of pens. Most feedlots require some type of governmental permit and must have plans in place to deal with the large amount of waste that is generated. The Environmental Protection Agency has authority under the Clean Water Act to regulate all animal feeding operations in the United States. This authority is delegated to individual states in some cases [1]. Increasing numbers of cattle feedlots are utilizing out-wintering pads made of timber residue bedding in their operations [2]. Nutrients are retained in the waste timber and livestock effluent and can be recycled within the farm system after use.

Prior to entering a feedlot, cattle spend most of their life grazing on rangeland or on immature fields of grain such as green wheat pasture. Once cattle obtain an entry-level weight, about 650 pounds (300 kg), they are transferred to a feedlot to be fed a specialized diet which may be made up of hay, corn, sorghum, various other grains, by-products of food processing, such as sugar beet waste, molasses, soybean meal, animal biproducts or cottonseed meal, and minerals. In the American northwest and Canada, barley, low grade durum wheat, chick peas (garbanzo beans), oats and occasionally potatoes are used as feed.

Feedlot diets are usually very dense in food energy, to encourage the deposition of fat, or marbling, in the animal's muscles; Some consider this fat desirable as it leads to 'juiciness' in the resulting meat. The animal may gain an additional 400 pounds (180 kg) during its 3-4 months in the feedlot.

Aside from ethical and environmental concerns, feedlots have come under criticism for human health reasons. The tissues of feedlot-raised cattle have far more saturated fat than that of grass-fed cattle, some sources say up to 500 percent more.[3] Feedlot-raised beef may after long periods on feed have reduced healthy omega-3 fatty acids because of the corn-and-grain diets of the cattle.[4]

Once cattle are fattened up to their finished weight, the cattle are transported to a slaughterhouse.



The beef industry today is highly dependent upon technology, but this has not always been true. In the early 20th century, feeder operations were separate from all other related operations and feedlots were non-existent[5]. They appeared in the 1960s and 1970s as a result of hybrid grains and irrigation techniques; the ensuing larger grain crops led to abundant grain harvests. It was suddenly possible to feed large amounts of heads of cattle in one location and so, to cut transportation costs, grain farm and feedlot locations merged. Cattle were no longer sent from all across the southern states to places like California, where large slaughter houses were located. In the 1980s, meat packers followed the path of feedlots and are now located close by them as well.


There are many methods used to sell cattle to meat packers. Spot, or cash, marketing is the traditional and most commonly used method. Prices are influenced by current demand and are determined by live weight or per head. Similar to this is forward contracting, in which prices are determined the same way but are not directly influenced by market demand fluctuations. Forward contracts determine the selling price between the two parties negotiating for a set amount of time. However, this method is the least used because it requires some knowledge of production costs and the willingness of both sides to take a risk in the futures market. Another method, formula pricing, is becoming the most popular process, as it more accurately represents the value of meat received by the packer. This requires trust between the packers and feedlots though, and is under criticism from the feedlots because the amount paid to the feedlots is determined by the packers’ assessment of the meat received. Finally, live- or carcass-weight based formula pricing is most common. Other types include grid pricing and boxed beef pricing. The most controversial marketing method stems from the vertical integration of packer-owned feedlots, which still represents less than 10% of all methods, but has been growing over the years[6].

See also


  1. ^ 2008 Final CAFO Rule, USEPA, Office of Water, 2009.
  2. ^ Augustenborg, C.A.; O.T. Carton; R.P.O. Schulte; and I. H. Suffet (2008)'Silage Dry-Matter Yield and Nitrogen Response following Land Application of Spent Timber Residue from Out-Wintering Pads to Irish Grassland',Communications in Soil Science and Plant Analysis,39:7,1122—1137. [1]
  3. ^ Hyman, MD, Mark, Ultrametabolism: The Simple Plan for Automatic Weightloss, Scribner (2006), pp.35-36.
  4. ^[2]
  5. ^ Clark, Georgia and Jaime Malaga. 2005. “West Texas Feedlots: Reality and Perspectives”. Texas Tech University.
  6. ^ Ward, Clement. 2005. “Captive Supply Price Relationships and Impacts.” Oklahoma State University Oklahoma Extension Service. Bull. No. F-598.

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