Feedlots house large numbers of animals in set paddocks. An inevitable consequence of this is the production of manure and effluent by-products that need to be managed. How these are managed has important consequences for:
- Animal welfare
- Occupational health and safety (OHS)
- The environment
Where manure and effluent are not effectively managed, odour can be produced, and this may lead to social issues where feedlots are located close to residential areas. Not effectively managing manure and effluent can also have animal health issues.
Through legislation, licensing, quality assurance and training with respect to manure and effluent management, lot feeders can optimise;
- Soil, water and air quality;
- The working conditions for employees;
- Animal productivity;
- Income through the sale of more productive animals; and the use and sale of manure and effluent as by-products.
Feedlot production is efficient, meaning more beef can be produced with less land, water, manure, feed and emissions.
Feedlots also have great potential for future environmental improvements due to control over inputs and outputs. For example:
- Ration inputs can be altered to reduce emissions (eg Feeding cattle grape marc can reduce the amount of methane they emit)
- Outputs like manure can be collected, composted and sold as a valuable soil conditioner. Manure can also be used to sequester carbon or produce energy.
The Australian feedlot industry is regulated under State and Territory Government environmental, waste and planning legislation. Such legislation provides a framework for managing manure and effluent, through:
- Management and licensing requirements (eg annual soil and water testing and reporting)
- Waste avoidance
- Energy recovery
- Waste disposal
- Planning conditions which minimise the development’s impact upon the surrounding community.
The industry’s quality assurance program, the National Feedlot Accreditation Scheme (NFAS), requires audits each year to ensure compliance with both NFAS and legislative requirements.
The core environmental requirements within NFAS are set out in the National Beef Cattle Feedlot Environmental Code of Practice. This document details the national environmental standards for the establishment and operation of feedlots and has been formally approved by relevant state and federal Government agencies and Ministers. The integrity of NFAS is so highly regarded that it is recognised within environmental legislation as meeting the compliance function of Government in several states.
Rather than being considered a waste, the feedlot industry conversely see manure and effluent as an asset. This is because manure can be:
- Composted and used on farm as a valuable soil conditioner (or sold to nurseries, golf courses or homes);
- Processed to extract energy for re-use.
Moreover, effluent is collected in ponds and used to irrigate crops.
Such recycling and reuse of manure and effluent is undertaken by all lot feeders in Australia.
The industry is investing in research to help lower greenhouse gas emissions. Some projects include: