Pasture to Plate Series: Feedlot

Feb 23, 2017

After the calves have been weaned and vaccinated, they are ready to move onto the next step of beef production, the auction market. The animals are taken to the auction house to be sold and placed in a feedlot.

Feedlots can fall into two different categories according to guidelines set forth by the USDA, EPA, NRCS, and other government agencies. The first category is defined as an animal feeding operation, or AFO, if the facility confines, stables, or feeds animals for 45 days or more in a 12-month period and a ground cover of vegetation is not sustained over at least 50 percent of the confinement area.

The second type of feedlot is a concentrated animal feeding operation(CAFO). This operation is defined as a CAFO, if it meets the definition of an animal feeding operation as outlined above and also confines more than 1,000 animal units (1,000 animal units is equal to 2,500 swine; 100,000 broilers; 700 dairy cows; or 1,000 beef steers

Location is key for many of these feedlots. Most are located in the Texas panhandle, Oklahoma panhandle, Kansas, and Nebraska. Most feedlots are relatively close to a packing plant or slaughterhouse to keep trucking costs down when the animals are ready to be slaughtered.


This stage of cattle production focus mainly on growth and efficiency of the animal, but also focuses a great deal on nutrition and health, as well. The main purpose of feedlots is to help the animal reach a certain weight as efficiently as possible. This happens through providing a steady, high energy diet and managing the cattle to minimize health problems and stress. One major part of this equation is to lower the amount of energy the animal spends trying to find food and direct that to growth.

Most of the cattle coming into feedlots are around 700 to 800 pounds and are around a year of age. When they first come into the feedlot they are vaccinated, ear tagged, and started on a high forage diet. The longer they are in the feedlot, the more their diets become concentrated with grains and high energy products.

Cattle normally remain in a feedlot for about three to four months or until they reach a weight at or above 1,200 pounds. When they reach this weight they are then transported to the packing plant to be slaughtered and distributed. 

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