Feedlots: Drilling deeper into factory contribution to total beef kill

Approximately 5% of the total annual beef kill originates specifically from factory-owned or factory-controlled feedlots.

This figure was revealed by Cormac Healy senior director of Meat Industry Ireland (MII).

To put this in context, AgriLand recently determined that an estimated 18% of the total national beef kill is accounted for by department-defined ‘restricted feedlots’. Such enterprises, which operate according to specific TB-led regulations, could include factory-owned, factory-contracted (but privately-owned) or independent farmer-owned feedlot operations.

Also Read: Feedlot operations increase sixfold in 10 years across Ireland

So, while it has now been confirmed that approximately 5% of the annual kill is coming from factory-owned or factory-controlled feedlots – around 90,000 head – it is still unclear as to what percentage is derived from factory-contracted feedlots.

Speaking to AgriLand, Healy first stressed that, in line with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, feedlot status in Ireland is specifically linked to restricted herds under the department’s TB programme.

“Feedlot status or more specifically ‘restricted feedlot’ status is assigned to herds by the department.

It means that if you go down with TB and you decide not to go get two tests clear until you can start buying in stock again, you can always sell stock to slaughter.

“When you are locked up you can’t sell back into the farming arena and you can’t buy in stock.

“An increasing number of herds have gone this route in more recent years – hence the escalation in the number of herds – that’s what I understand from the department,” he said.

When asked if factory-contracted feedlot operations are included in the 5% figure Healy said: “That is not included in the 5%.”

In fact, the meat industry itself appears unsure as to specific volume of cattle being sourced from factory-contracted feedlots and what percentage it is contributing to the annual national beef kill.

I don’t know; but it won’t take me up to 18%. I haven’t gone after that, but those are contracts with a farmer that I’m told we have to do more of.

“The 18% is giving the impression that it’s all factory-owned and it’s not.

“It has been increasing in recent years; but feedlot status does not mean factory-feedlot status – it’s restricted feedlot status,” he said.

‘Restricted Feedlot’ status

Last month AgriLand highlighted that the number of department-defined ‘restricted feedlots’ – whereby stock moved only to slaughter – has increased sixfold across the country over the last 10 years.

Figures, obtained from the department show that these feedlots – which operate under restrictions in accordance with Ireland’s Bovine TB Eradication Programme for 2017 and 2018 – increased from 52 in 2008 to 338 in 2018.

Under the TB programme a feedlot herd comprises a ‘non-breeding’ unit which disposes of all cattle direct for slaughter and fulfills at least one of the following three criteria: cattle are permanently housed (never on pasture); there are no adjoining holdings/lands with cattle; boundaries are walled, double fenced or equivalent to prevent any direct contact with cattle on neighbouring lands/premises/holdings.

Although grass can be included in the diet, the department also clearly outlines that if intending to graze, the land must be secured so there can be no contact with other cattle on neighbouring farms.

Furthermore, the department outlined that there must be “no evidence” of the within-herd spread of TB – as such, a feedlot herd “poses minimal risk” of infecting other cattle because of effective isolation from other herds.