Development at feedlot puts cattle in the shade

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Thomas Foods International's Iranda Beef Feedlot general manager Thomas Green.
Camera IconThomas Foods International's Iranda Beef Feedlot general manager Thomas Green. Credit: Countryman

An experienced feedlot operator with a focus on animal welfare has been influential in adopting shade cover in the beef production sectors of one of Australia’s biggest food companies.

Thomas Foods International’s Iranda Beef feedlot general manager Thomas Green, who spoke at the Better Beef event last Thursday in Cundinup, said Thomas Foods decided to put shade into its 17,500-head feedlot in Tintinara, SA, five years ago.

Mr Green said during a dry summer in 2017, the temperature rose to 44C in a 72-hour period.

“We lost 100-head of cattle,” he said.

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“The extreme heat caused permanent damage to many other cattle, which resulted in a significant production loss. In 2018 we spent $900,000 on putting shade into our feedlot, a figure that we estimated was equal to production loss we incurred in 2017.”

Mr Green said there were several reasons to install shade at the Tintinara feedlot.

They included animal welfare, consumer expectations, business sustainability, industry direction, production benefits, supply chain responsibility, and the potential of it being mandatory.

He said when the temperature was mild and the going was good, the question of where the payback for shade was came to mind.

“But when it goes wrong, I can tell from experience you’re going to want it there,” Mr Green said.

“With shade, our cattle are more comfortable.

“It is better for animal welfare.

“The discussion is now around can we afford not to have shade.”

Mr Green said shade measuring 48m in length, 12m in width and 6m high was now provided in 95 pens at the feedlot. “It’s a shade, not a shelter or structure,” he said.

“We believe our shade coverage is sufficient — any more and you start spending money.”

Mr Green said TFI was a vertically integrated beef company.

“We take our produce to market — we have our own brand which is sold overseas,” he said.

“We are actually starting to get questions from customers if we shade our feedlot.”

Mr Green, who was awarded a Nuffield Scholarship in 2019 with a focus topic of animal welfare in intensive animal production, said feeding long-fed black cattle with no shade in a high-risk environment was not good enough.

He said the World Health Organisation for Animal Health defined animal welfare as how an animal was coping in the conditions in which it lived, both physically and mentally.

“We have to be financially sustainable and environmentally sustainable to society. The changes we make have to happen, but best done in a calculated manner,” Mr Green said.

“There is no point being A-class with your environment and having the best facility if you’re broke.”

Mr Green said the key drivers of animal welfare were government legislation, social economics, culture, religion and demographics.

“The clear message is Australian produce is good, but the red meat industry needs to stand together more,” he said.

“As producers we have a responsibility to educate ourselves.”

Mr Green said Australia, as an exporting nation, had a whole lot of factors to consider globally.

“Industry seems to be somewhat defensive to consumers expectations,” he said.

“Consumers want safe meat and animals to be raised ethically, which isn’t too much to ask.”

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