About this publication

The target of this publication is the smaller ‘opportunity’ type feedlotters. That is, operations with one-time capacities from 50 to 1000 head. Generally these do not operate continuously, but reflect economic opportunities or seasonal conditions.

The objective is to make the path easier for such operators by informing them of their legal obligations, both in establishing the feedlot and in operating it in an environmentally sustainable manner. Operators should also be aware that self-regulation is in place through the National Feedlot Accreditation Scheme, with market implications.

This publication has been developed from a Bulletin originally released in 1981 with the title Lotfeeding of Beef Cattle. It was reprinted as an Agfact in 1986 and again in 1991, when the title was changed to Opportunity Lotfeeding of Beef Cattle. Since 1991 there has been a significant expansion of the feedlot industry in Australia.

This current publication contains new information, particularly relating to approval and Accreditation. These can have a significant impact on profits. Other changes reflect the growing community concerns about animal welfare, the environment and food safety.

The National Guidelines for Beef Cattle Feedlots in Australia were released in 1992, with a second edition (Standing Committee on Agriculture & Resource Management Report No. 47) released in 1997.

In addition, the New South Wales Feedlot Manual has undergone major revision, with the first update to the second edition being released in 1997. This Manual incorporates the National Guidelines and provides details on the requirements for building and operating a beef cattle feedlot in this State.

Opportunity feedlotters should seek further advice from:

  • Agricultural Environment Officers and Beef Cattle Officers from NSW Agriculture;
  • officers from the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources (DIPNR), particularly Catchment Managers;
  • local councils.

While the information given here is correct at the time of publishing, readers should check with their local council, NSW Agriculture, the Environment Protection Authority, and the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources (DIPNR).

This document is a New South Wales Agriculture publication, written for New South Wales. Much of the information is relevant nationally, but some sections, particularly the section on Approval, refer to NSW legislation. Interstate operators should check their State-specific requirements with the appropriate State Government agency.


This publication discusses feedlot management and operation. The most important factor is profitability. The critical question for each individual operation is: ‘Will this give me more profit?’. In other words, will the net return be improved?

Major factors influencing profitability are:

  • price and availability of feed
  • value of store animal
  • price of finished animal
  • costs of labour and establishment
  • need for and costs of obtaining approval and Accreditation.

As a beef producer, you may find an opportunity to develop and use a small feedlot when:

  • store cattle are cheap, so you can take advantage of the ‘opportunity’ to buy some and finish them for sale over a 60–90 day period;
  • grain is cheap and it can be used in the feedlot to finish your own or bought-in cattle for market.

Before you build your feedlot, check with your local council to find out if feedlotting is allowed where you are and whether you require approval. If you need approval and don’t get it, the results could become expensive especially if your operation is polluting the environment in some way. Sometimes pollution can happen in ways many won’t realise. See the section on Approval.

Fines for polluting the environment can be severe.

If feedlotting is a permissible operation, then it will probably need approval, unless you have been continuously feeding on the site since before council named feedlots as activities that require consent.

Under State legislation in New South Wales, developing any feedlot with a proposed capacity of 50 cattle or more requires approval from the appropriate consent authority, generally your local council. This approval applies to both the development and the operation. If your proposed feedlot is less than 50 head capacity, check with your council about their specific requirements. Many councils require development applications even for these operations.

Other uses for a feedlot

A feedlot can have other uses in the management of a beef cattle enterprise.

  • During periods of feed shortage, confining cattle in small areas such as a feedlot can decrease stocking pressure on the remainder of the property. Further, animals for slaughter can be finished, instead of being ‘sold’ as stores at give-away prices, or maintained unprofitably.
  • It releases land for other uses such as cropping.
  • It can assist early weaning.
  • It can be used for yard weaning.
  • It can improve heifer joining performance in poor seasons.
  • It can simplify management of artificial breeding programs.
  • It can be used for fitting bulls for joining and cows for lactation and breeding.

Further information on these other uses of a feedlot can be obtained from your nearest beef cattle adviser. This publication deals primarily with feedlots to finish cattle.

Warning: Chemical residues

Some sources of fodder have been linked with an increased risk of chemical residues in slaughter animals. While most problems have been linked to persistent chemicals such as the organochlorines (OCs), any chemical contaminant in feed can cause unacceptable residues in livestock products if present in sufficient concentration. Residues can persist for a variable time after feeding of contaminated material ceases. The time taken for residues to clear varies greatly depending on factors such as the chemical involved, the level in the feed, the duration of feeding and changes in the animal’s body weight and condition.

It is vital to maintain the ‘clean’ reputation of our animal products in both domestic and export markets.

You should be particularly cautious when sourcing materials not commonly used as animal feeds. Unless the materials have been tested for residues of all the chemicals to which they may have been exposed during their production, harvesting, storage, processing and transport, it should be assumed that chemical residues may be present.

In past droughts, chemical residues in livestock have been traced to feeding materials such as sugar cane tops harvested from OC-treated land, waste fruit and vegetables, cotton gin trash and a variety of other unusual feeds. Problems have also been associated with the feeding of pickled seed grain and grain stored in OC-contaminated silos.

Producers should check with suppliers as to what chemicals the feed has been or may have been exposed to during its production, harvest, storage, processing and transport. If the feed has been raked and baled in the field or if it may contain soil, additional assurances should be sought that it was harvested from land which had no previous applications of persistent OCs.

Fodder samples can be tested for specific chemical residues. It is the submitter’s responsibility to specify the particular tests required on any sample sent for analysis. The request should be based on information as to the chemicals to which the feed may have been exposed during its production, harvesting, processing, storage and transport. A general screen test for organochlorine and organophosphate chemicals costs less than $100 per sample. However, this screening test will not detect residues of chemicals other than those organochlorines and organophosphates covered by the screening test.

Producers should seek professional advice if uncertain as to the interpretation or significance of any residue test results.

Be warned that if chemical residues are detected, the animals or their carcases may be condemned at your expense (no compensation will be paid). In addition, the property from which the animals were sold may be targeted for more intensive residue monitoring.

When purchasing any feed, producers are advised to:

  • inform the seller what they are purchasing the feed for;
  • inquire whether the feed is suitable for that purpose;
  • inquire if any chemicals have been applied to the feed, or if there are any chemical residues in the feed, or if the feed is ‘free of unacceptable residues’;
  • request a National Commodity Vendor Declaration be supplied (see: Commodity vendor declarations for stockfeeds).

It is desirable that all feed is purchased with a statement that it is ‘free of known unacceptable chemical residues and is suitable for the intended purpose — i.e. to feed cattle’. However, when adverse seasonal conditions reduce the availability of feed, it may be necessary to buy feed without such a disclaimer. In such circumstances, you need to test not only for energy and protein values, but also for residues. (See: Management of organochlorine and related residues and Dangers in feeding waste material to livestock.)

For further information on residue testing, contact:

Chemical Residue Laboratories
Norco Lane
South Lismore NSW 2480
(PO Box 285, Lismore NSW 2480)
Phone (02) 6621 2632; Fax (02) 6621 4319

Warning: Endosulfan

Findings of excessive endosulfan levels in crops and crop stubbles used as stock feeds has reinforced the need for caution in the use of this chemical. Unacceptable residues in any agricultural product can lead to market closures and multimillion dollar costs to primary producers and agribusiness.

Key messages

  • Do not slaughter stock within 42 days of their last feeding or grazing on vegetative material, including silage, originating from endosulfan-treated crops or vegetation exposed to spray drift.
  • Pastures and fodder crops which may be contaminated with endosulfan spray drift should not be fed to stock within 42 days of slaughter. Any detectable level of endosulfan may breach fodder supply contracts and result in rejection of the fodder.
  • Determine the chemical treatment history of all stockfeed prior to purchase and/or use. Be particularly cautious about any material not originally produced or intended for stockfeed use.
  • Talk to neighbours about chemical use on adjoining land. Ensure crop, chemical and stock management are compatible.
  • Where any doubts exist as to the residue status of stock, fodder, pasture or land, residue tests should be used to clarify the situation and allow informed, responsible decisions.