Preference of beef cattle for feedlot or pasture environments

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Caroline Lee, Andrew D. Fisher, Ian G. Colditz, Jim M. Lea, Drewe M. Ferguson
Applied Animal Behaviour Science
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Abstract Intensive feedlot finishing is perceived to affect welfare because cattle cannot perform normal behaviours evident in pasture environments. The objective of this study was to determine cattle preference for spending time at pasture (5 ha) or in a feedlot (25 × 10 m) under pastures with differing feed on offer; high (3900 kg DM/ha) and low (1900 kg DM/ha). Five groups of Angus steers consisting of six animals per group (454 ± 9.3 kg body weight) were tested in the high and low pasture treatments. A commercial pelleted ration was available ad libitum in the feedlot. Electronic tag readers monitored animal movements between the pasture and feedlot. Time spent lying and standing were measured with IceTags™ and time spent eating in the feedlot was recorded with video cameras. Data were analysed using a linear and regression model in ASREML. Cattle showed a preference for pasture where they spent 75% of their time and this was not influenced by pasture treatment, temperature or rainfall. Cattle preferred the feedlot in the morning with 61% of cattle choosing the feedlot environment which coincided with a peak in eating from the feeder. There was little feedlot activity at night between 20:00 and 05:00 h with 90% of cattle choosing the pasture environment. Cattle had a preference to lie down at pasture with 81 ± 0.02% of their lying occurring whilst at pasture (P < 0.001). There was no significant effect of pasture treatment on total time spent in the feedlot (high 6.0 h, low 6.1 h; P = 0.88), time spent standing (high 4.0 h, low 4.1 h; P = 0.62) or lying (both 1.9; P = 0.99) within the feedlot. There was a tendency (P = 0.08) for cattle to spend more time eating at the feeder when offered low (1.37 h) than high pasture (1.23 h) but group feed intake in the feedlot did not differ (P = 0.11) between pasture treatments (9.7 and 10.5 kg/animal/day, respectively). Cattle consumed most of their daily nutritional needs with the feedlot diet alone. Cattle tended to spend more time standing while at pasture when offered high pasture (8.1 h) than when offered low pasture (7.3 h; P = 0.054) but lying in the pasture did not differ between high and low pasture (10 and 10.6 h, respectively; P = 0.26). In conclusion, cattle showed a preference for pasture which was not influenced by pasture feed on offer.


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