Cows in Feedlots

The issues for cows in feedlots
Our solution
How you can help


Cows are ruminant animals – that is, they like to eat grass and soften it by ‘chewing the cud’, which aids digestion. However, humans’ every-growing demand for fatty, marbled beef has led to the creation of a feedlot sector, where cows are fattened up on artificial grain diets before being slaughtered.

The use of feedlots in Australia has exploded into a $2.7 billion per year industry. The industry’s peak body claims 80% of beef sold in supermarkets comes from the feedlot industry.[1] Most cows are raised in pastures and are sent to a feedlot for the last few months of their lives in order to grow to a ‘marketable weight’.

The majority of beef eaten in Australia comes from animals who have been subjected to artificial diets, fed growth hormones and are forced to live in barren, faeces-ridden environments with little protection from the elements.

The issues for cows in feedlots

Artificial diet

In the natural world, cows are ruminants who spend up to 12 hours per day grazing on a variety of grasses. In a feedlot they are fed a high fat, high energy diet of wheat and barley, in order to fatten them up as quickly as possible. They are also fed growth hormones, which, according to the peak body, helps ‘cattle meet market weight at an earlier age’.[2]

After the mass outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy– also known as ‘mad cow disease’ – feeding cows meat, blood and bone from other animals or fish was banned.[3] Prior to the ban in 2001, it was common practice in feedlots.

The feedlot environment

Feedlots are fenced in, outdoor areas which cows are crammed into, to ensure they don’t exercise and hinder the fattening up process. There are often no trees for the cows to seek shade under, and no grass for the cows to eat.

The lots are covered in manure, which turns to muddy sludge when it rains. During drought, the lots are dry and dusty. There is currently no legal requirement for farmers to provide shelter to cows in feedlots.

Injury and illness

A wide range of injury and illness are found in feedlot cattle. These diseases are caused by stress, dehydration, transportation, inadequate food and the feedlot environment. They include:

  • tick fever
  • footrot
  • enterotoxaemia (pulp kidney)
  • bovine respiratory disease
  • blight (pink eye)
  • feedlot bloat
  • acidosis
  • Liver abscesses
  • botulism (a bacterial disease that causes paralysis).

Surgery without pain relief

A shocking number of surgical procedures are performed on cattle, all without anaesthesia. These happen when the cows are still calves, before they arrive at the feedlot, but are a cruel and ever-present part of life for cows bred for food. These procedures include:

  • branding with hot iron brands
  • castration
  • removing the horns, which can be done in several ways:
    • dehorning, where large scoop-like clippers dig into the cow’s head to remove the horn and root. This procedure can leave the skull fractured
    • debudding, which is where the horn is removed at a young age to prevent the horn bud from attaching to the skull. This is then cauterised with a hot iron
    • cutting, which is generally done on older cows because the horns have become thick. The saw or guillotine cuts straight through the nerves, and is then cauterised with a hot iron.

Farmers can get away with performing these cruel procedures without pain relief because they are deemed commercially necessary under animal protection legislation.

Early death

Left to their own devices, a cow will live happily chewing cud for up to 25 years. However, cows raised for food have their lives drastically cut short. A cow is generally sent to fatten up on a feedlot for the last three or four months of their life, and are sent to slaughter before they reach the age of two.

Our solution

The ever-growing demand for beef worldwide has led to the creation of feedlots and the production of cattle like parts in a machine. Only by reducing this demand will the need for such animal factories go away. Animal Liberation wants to see people stop eating beef, and feedlots be outlawed.

How you can help

  • Don’t eat beef. Talk to your friends and family about how cows are treated on feedlots, and encourage them to give up beef too
  • Ask your local butcher, supermarket and restaurants whether their beef comes from feedlot cattle
  • Become a member of Animal Liberation and help fund the fight against feedlots and the commodification of animals
  • Write letters to the editor, to your local MP and government department responsible for feedlots, highlighting how unnatural and unnecessary the treatment of cows is, and calling for feedlots to be abolished.


[1] Australian Lot Feeders Association, accessed 20/02/2013

[2] Ibid.

[3] Animal Health Australia, Australian Ruminant Feed Ban National Uniform Guidelines, accessed 20/02/2013