Establishing the feedlot

General considerations


As a general rule, the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) recommends that feedlots may need covering if established in areas with average annual rainfall greater than 750 mm.

However, if the intended operating time for an opportunity feedlot coincides with a well-recognised ‘dry’ period, this may overcome the rainfall problem. However, such an operation is generally not able to operate throughout the year.

Further, high rainfall and open feedlots can cause problems with the storage and use of feedlot runoff (effluent).

Sensitive receptors

Another consideration is proximity of the proposed site to property boundaries and the location of sensitive receptors — residences, schools or other community meeting places — beyond the property boundaries. We recommend that you ensure there is a buffer zone between your feedlot and the property boundary.

Talk to NSW Agriculture and to your local council. Some councils have specific requirements in their regulations, especially regarding separation distances.


Being close to existing yards and cattle loading facilities, also to feed storages and machinery sheds, will make it easier to use existing facilities and minimise capital expenditure. Remember that the yards will need to include drafting facilities, a crush or bailhead, scales and good loading facilities.

All-weather access for trucks, whether delivering feed and/or store cattle, taking cattle to slaughter, or collecting manure, may be an important consideration. Other aspects include availability of suitable stock water supplies, of power and perhaps of telephone lines.


Visibility is a very important consideration, particularly from a neighbour’s aesthetic viewpoint. If the site is shielded from view, perhaps by topography or by windbreaks of trees, the impact should be reduced.


Animals in a feedlot should be sheltered from wind, especially from strong, cold winds. Shade should be provided for stock in the feedlot during summer, in accordance with the National Guidelines.


Mounds are not essential in well-drained feedlots and generally are not recommended. However, they may be beneficial in opportunity feedlots, especially in winter rainfall areas or in flat feed pens (0–2% slope).

A mound can serve both as a dry camp and as a windbreak. They should be located in the lower part of the yard, so that they do not interfere with pen drainage or with cleaning.

Capture, storage and use of effluent (runoff)

Rain that falls in the feedlot and runs off is described as ‘effluent’. It is assumed that this runoff has been in contact with manure and it needs to be collected, held in a settling system (called a sedimentation system) to allow suspended solid material to settle, then stored in holding ponds until it can be used. This runoff is high in nutrients, which can pollute surface water or groundwaters, or both.

Drains, sedimentation systems and holding ponds may need to be compacted or lined with an impermeable material, such as clay, to prevent infiltration.

Generally recommended practice is for the effluent to be diluted with ‘clean’ water and used for irrigation. Cropping with subsequent removal of applied nutrients is the preferred use. If effluent is used to irrigate pasture for grazing, many of the nutrients in the effluent are recycled by the grazing animals, hence net removal is low.

Officers from NSW Agriculture or the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources (DIPNR) will be able to give advice on the volume of effluent to be stored (size of holding ponds) and its sustainable use. Nutrient budgets will be needed to show how effluent (and manure) will be used sustainably.

Using manure

Feedlot manure is another valuable organic fertiliser resource generated by the feedlot. Your Statement of Environmental Effects should also explain how the manure will be used sustainably — either on the home property, or by off-site sale. Talk to your local NSW Agriculture Agronomist.

Finding the site

Finding a good site is the critical first step. Selecting a good site avoids many future problems that would follow poor site selection.

Avoiding residues

In the past, some feedlots have been established in areas which have previously been used for other purposes, for example old sheep yards, including dips, or other areas where organochlorine chemicals have been used. Such sites can be disastrous — with cattle eating infected material, residues being detected, then quarantine imposed.

Before you start, it is absolutely essential that you make sure that your proposed site is free from residues of persistent chemicals such as organochlorines and arsenic. Your District Veterinarian will be able to confirm whether your property has any recent residue history.

For an existing Cattlecare Accredited property, a proposed new feedlot site must be soil tested for persistent chemical residues (organochlorines), or acceptable fat test results must be provided to satisfy Element 1 (Chemical Residue Risk Assessment) of the Cattlecare Code of Practice.


Some slope is desirable to assist runoff, avoiding ponding and the possible development of boggy conditions. However, erosion is not wanted either, so avoid steep slopes. Optimum slope is approximately 3–4%.

Avoid boggy hollows and drainage lines, and keep well away from creeks and waterways.

Refer to the consent authority regarding any prescribed separation distances. You must demonstrate how any watercourse (or groundwater — see Soils below) will be protected from pollution. The closer your feedlot is to a water resource, the stricter the requirements.

Each development needs to be considered on a site-specific basis, particularly relating to soil types, slope and ground cover. However, as a general guide, try to locate your (small) feedlot 500 m or more away from any watercourse.

If possible, avoid areas where runoff from above the site naturally flows through the proposed feedlot area. Diversion banks, and possibly dams to store this ‘clean’ runoff, will increase the costs of establishment. If the upslope runoff is not diverted, it becomes effluent and increases the problems with volumes of storage required and areas for use.


Sensitivity of groundwater to possible pollution by feedlot runoff can be critical. First, you must establish whether there is a groundwater resource immediately beneath or close to the proposed site. If there is, where is it (in terms of depth) and what is the water quality? Is it steady, or does it change?

In larger feedlots, a 25–50 mm thick layer of compacted manure — the feedlot pad — becomes established on the pen surface to protect any underlying groundwater. However, with the intermittent use of an opportunity operation, or with a stocking density which allows more than 25m2 of space per head, the pad will be hard to maintain.

It is possible that soil tests may establish the existence of an impermeable clay layer, which will protect any underlying groundwater. Alternatively, the surface of the feedlot pens and the drains may be lined with a suitable thickness of a compacted impermeable material, such as a clay. Your local DIPNR Catchment Manager will be able to advise you.


Yard space


Stocking density, generally described in terms of the area of yard space per animal, depends on the intended market (and therefore the size of cattle on feed), on the topography and on the climate. One concern with low densities (for example, areas per head more than 25m2 ) is that such a density will not maintain the feedlot pad. However, as discussed in the previous section, an opportunity-type operation often will not be able to maintain a suitable pad, even if it should become established.

A major consideration with stocking density is the balance between dust and mud. Too much space can lead to dust problems, while too many cattle can lead to boggy conditions developing. Both dust and mud can affect animal welfare and productivity.

The 1997 Australian Code of Practice for the Welfare of Cattle in Beef Feedlots (the Feedlot Code ) was published early in 1998 in the second edition of the National Guidelines for Beef Cattle Feedlots in Australia . The Feedlot Code requires a minimum 9m2 per head in open feedlots, but no maximum, except as a guideline.

However, the National Feedlot Accreditation Scheme specifies a maximum area per head of 25m2 , unless approval is obtained from an appropriate authority. Such lower densities might be justified in the southern half of New South Wales (winter rainfall zone), where many small feedlots only operate for 5–6 months, generally through the autumn and winter.

Many large feedlots are currently operating at 15–20m2 , particularly feeding for export markets. In some areas, particularly for part-time operations, 20–25m2 may be more appropriate. Your local NSW Agriculture Beef Cattle Officer can advise you on this.

It is important that gates be wide enough for easy movement of stock with minimal bruising and for easy access by equipment used to clean the pens (see Figure 1 at right). The NSW Feedlot Manual recommends wide gates, up to 4.8 m, with 3.6 m gates along feed apron areas for cleaning equipment.


A guaranteed supply of good water is essential as reduced water intake reduces feed intake and weight gain. Water troughs should be long enough to provide drinking space for 10% of the yard at any one time. Allow 300 mm length of trough for every 10 head in the yard. That means that one 3 m trough section will water 100 head, provided there is enough volume and pressure of water to keep the trough filled, around 10 L/head/hour. In hot weather, more trough space may help.

Water should be separate from the feeding troughs and preferably be situated in the centre of a fence line, on the lowest side of the pen, so that it can be used by stock from either paddock (see Figure 2). Allowing a trough to drain outside the yard (see Figure 3) can help to avoid boggy conditions developing when troughs are emptied for cleaning.

Feedlot round troughRectangular water trough

There will be wide variations in consumption, depending on climate, size of cattle, season and the water content of the feed. The New South Wales Feedlot Manual (1997) suggests planning annual water requirements on an allowance of 6.5 L per 50 kg liveweight per day. In the middle of summer, consumption may be almost double that of colder, wetter months.

Avoid salty water. Preferably, water should be of good quality, containing no more than 3500 ppm (parts per million) soluble salts. Recommended maximum salinity level is 6000–7000 ppm.

WARNING: There have been instances in the past where a producer has built an opportunity feedlot across a flowing creek, to save the cost of the water trough and pump. In today’s world, the fines that would be imposed for polluting waters would pay for dozens of troughs and pumps.

Feed troughs

Feed trough

The preferred location for feed troughs is on the high side of the pens. A good slope away from troughs (inside the pen) helps to reduce the amount of manure accumulated around them.

The feed trough is usually constructed along a fence line, which must be strengthened with timber, cable or pipe placed 45–50 cm above the trough to prevent stock pushing through.

Avoid running troughs east to west, because the southern side will not dry out in winter and could cause bogging behind the trough.

To hold sufficient feed, troughs need to be 45–60 cm wide and 30–45 cm deep, with the top of the trough 60 cm from the ground. The trough should be 8–15 cm higher at the back (outside) to minimise feed wastage (see Figure 4 at right).

Minimum requirements for trough space, with only once-daily feeding, are 25–30cm/head for weaners, 30–40 cm/head for yearlings and 40–60 cm/head for adult stock. Up to 60 cm/head may be required when starting cattle on feed, particularly if they have not been yard-weaned or otherwise backgrounded before feedlot entry. Less trough space can be allowed if feed is kept in front of the cattle more than 90% of the time. This can occur with self-feeders, or in larger feedlots, where fresh feed is added several times a day.

Troughs can be made from 200L drums cut in halves lengthways and fastened end-to-end to sawn or bush timber. Conveyor belting, flat-iron and even roofing iron can be used for troughs. Concrete feed and water troughs are excellent, but more expensive.

Hard to clean trough

Easy to clean trough

Second-hand conveyor belting is reasonably durable and makes a cheaper feed trough. However, spillage can be a problem, especially if the belting breaks over time.

With self-feeders, blocking of the feeders can be a problem when starting on high-roughage diets. Allow approximately 1 m trough space for every 4–6 head.


A concrete, gravel or timber apron 2–3m wide on the stock side of the feed trough will prevent bogging and permit easy cleaning.

Similar aprons, at least 2.5m wide, are desirable around water troughs.