Confined paddock feeding and feedlotting

Page last updated: Monday, 18 February 2019 - 7:35am

Confinement feeding (also referred to as lot feeding or feedlotting) is an intensive feeding system in a confined area where all, or the majority of, feed and water is supplied to animals.

When to use a confinement feedlot

Confinement feeding is a useful option for sheep producers wanting to feed for maintenance during a drought, defer graze during autumn in a normal year, or feed for production to finish lambs. Incorporating a feedlot into these feeding systems requires consideration of location, equipment and costs.

Confined paddock feeding should be considered in summer when the residual dry matter has declined across a farm to the point that there is a risk of wind and/or water erosion. While this usually occurs sometime in March, it depends on several factors:

  • the peak pasture biomass in the previous spring. If it is a dry spring, significantly less biomass accumulates, and the limits for wind erosion are reached quicker than normal
  • the date of senescence/haying off. If it is an early finish, the critical limits for residual feed on offer (FOO) to prevent wind erosion will be reached earlier than normal
  • seasonal conditions through summer. Summer rainfall and high temperatures increase the rate of breakdown of dry pasture.

Setting up a confinement feedlot or paddock is also beneficial after the break of season to allow deferred grazing, a tactic designed to allow germinated plants to establish a root system and reach a leaf area index that maximises pasture growth rate. The single biggest factor influencing early pasture growth is plant density, so removing grazing animals reduces the risk of uprooting small seedlings. A minimum feed on offer (FOO) of 500 kilograms of dry matter per hectare (kg DM/ha) is recommended before animals are introduced onto the deferred pasture. 

The advantages and disadvantages of confinement feeding are outlined below.

Advantages

  • minimises soil and nutrient loss from bare ground (prevents erosion)
  • preserves pasture density or allows pasture density to increase after the break
  • preserves pasture composition, preventing overgrazing of one plant species
  • prevents sheep 'chasing the green pick' and expending energy after the break
  • enables close observation of stock in poor condition.

Disadvantages

  • cost of full ration feeding
  • animal health issues associated with confined feeding (for example salmonella, coccidiosis, pulpy kidney, grain poisoning and worms)
  • infrastructure costs if creating a full intensive feedlot
  • need clean and adequate water in each pen or paddock used for sheep feeding (at least 4-6 litres of water per sheep, per day)
  • effort and expense of possible effluent disposal.

Consider these points when choosing a site to confine feed:

  • drainage
  • shelter
  • convenience to facilities
  • reliable access to adequate water supply
  • ensure minimum recommended distances from water courses and water storage are applied to avoid contamination (see next page).

Contact information

Danny Roberts
+61 (0)8 9892 8535
Mandy Curnow
+61 (0)8 9892 8422