Indonesia/ Australia Live Cattle Export: Feedlots

Australia and Indonesia have developed a strong bilateral relationship in livestock trade that has resulted in important commercial partnerships between industries in both countries. This section of an independent report, studying animal welfare conditions, looks at welfare in feedlots.
calendar icon 18 April 2011
clock icon 13 minute read


The trade in Australian cattle in Indonesia was found to be transparent and the tour group received unfettered access to facilities and staff. Feedlot operators and workers were generally welcoming, cooperative and unperturbed by the panel‟s presence. This was found to be the case at facilities, regardless of whether the visit was prearranged or impromptu.

General observations

The following in-market observations do not relate directly to the OIE Code but were considered to be important in providing context.


During the study, six feedlots (three in West Java and three in Lampung province in Sumatra) were visited which, at the time, held approximately 99,100 imported Australian cattle. These feedlots were typically free of offensive smells and animal noise which, according to the panel, suggested a good standard of animal welfare.

The presence or otherwise of offensive smells and animal noise was used as an indicator of animal welfare by the expert panel at each facility with offensive smells and excessive noise suggesting underlying animal welfare issues.

Cattle were often observed to be chewing their cud, behaviour which indicates rumination and contentment.

Feedlot size and cattle population

Feedlot size ranged from 1,300 head to around 30,000 head. Larger feedlots discharged about 150 to 200 head to abattoirs per night, mainly in trucks carrying around six head. Discharge increased to up to 900 per day from larger feedlots during religious festivals.

Local cattle supply to feedlots was reported to be declining with 98 per cent of feedlot cattle now imported. Local cattle tended to be of a smaller type with less pronounced muscling than the imported cattle and this was considered to be due to a combination of genetic makeup and management.

Quarantine and induction

Australian cattle, upon arrival at a feedlot in Indonesia, are required to be quarantined for 14 days. The quarantine process is managed by government vets and feedlot staff.

Handling was typically minimised in the first five days to allow the cattle to settle and bedding was usually provided to maximise the opportunity for rest. As part of the induction process, cattle were typically vaccinated for Haemorrhagic septicaemia (HS).


The majority (95 per cent) of feedstuffs used in feedlots are sourced locally and milled on site. Products used in ration mixes include palm kernel extract (PKE), soya meal, cassava and ongok (tapioca by-products), rice bran, pineapple by-products, rice straw, king grass, coca skins, soya meal, wheat bran and molasses.

Roughage of a desirable length, five to ten centimetres, fed as part of a total mixed ration (TMR) was only observed at two of the six feedlots visited. Roughage was not included as part of a TMR in the majority of feedlots due to a lack of milling infrastructure to deliver such a ration. Rice straw was observed to be fed at two feedlots; however, some of this was of poor quality and affected by mould.

Training and advice had been provided to several feedlots by MLA, LiveCorp and APFINDO, particularly relating to nutrition, and this was referenced by several operators. Aspects of this advice had been adopted; however, the extent to which this had been followed was limited by the feedlot infrastructure (milling) and the level of understanding of the handlers.

Average daily weight gain for Australian steers in Indonesian feedlots was about 1.2 kg/day with the poorest gain being about 1 kg/day and the best being 1.8 kg/day.

Cattle were fed for an average of 60 to 90 days. The maximum time on feed was reported to be 150 days. Fat was trimmed and disposed of during dressing and, as such, feeding was not designed to deliver fat cover equivalent to that sought in Australian feedlots. Similarly, dressing percentages were lower, typically 52 per cent, as the carcase weight did not include the trimmed fat.


All feedlots engaged a veterinarian who trained staff in the day-to-day inspection of livestock. Minor issues would be attended to by the handlers and referred to the veterinarian as required.

Mortalities were reported to average 0.1 per cent and morbidity 5 per cent in Indonesian feedlots although effective data capture and reporting systems to corroborate these figures were not observed.

The animal health issues observed in the hospital pens and on occasion in the general population were associated with physical injury,lameness, laminitis and respiratory illness.

Lactic acidosis was identified as an important disease issue by the staff at two feedlots. While the consistency of the faeces observed at all feedlots was not indicative of clinical rumen acidosis, there was evidence of laminitis, an indicator of lactic acidosis particularly in Bos indicus cattle, at three of the feedlots.

Isolated incidents of coughing were recorded at one of the six feedlots with 20-35 coughs per minute (from different cattle) observed. Coughing can be indicative of respiratory irritation and may have been due to Bovine Respiratory Disease although this could not be verified.

Isolated incidents (one or two animals in a pen of 30-40 animals) of rapid breathing, averaging 150 breaths per minute and up to 180 breaths per minute, were observed within the general livestock population at four of the six feedlots. Such animals were typically in unshaded areas of the pen.

Mortalities were generally disposed of onsite and usually buried. In one instance, in the event of mortality, the feedlot operators would open the carcase and douse with diesel to deter disinterment for human consumption.


Spayed and non-pregnant heifers were imported to be fed for 60 to 120 days and then slaughtered. Although steers were preferred by the trade, heifers were purchased when steers were considered too dear or unavailable.

An unacceptable percentage of pregnant heifers (reportedly about 0.1 per cent but as high as 8 per cent; however, these figures could not be verified) were reported by feedlot management to be included in these consignments resulting in potential animal welfare and trade issues. These heifers were, when identified prior to slaughter, observed to be retained with the calves grown out and weaned before the cows were slaughtered.

Horned cattle

Despite there being no evidence of dominance behaviour, such as abrasions from horn-raking in the chest and abdominal regions, horned cattle were penned at densities that were considered to be too high at five of the six feedlots.


The general construction of feedlots incorporated concrete flooring, feed bunkers and water troughs. A good ad lib supply of clean water was observed at all feedlots although some troughs were observed to be predisposed to faecal contamination.

Stock density

The average stock density was 2.5-3 m2/hd. This was generally consistent with the stocking density recommended in the MLA Manual for South-East Asian cattle feedlots; 2.5-4 m2/hd for fully covered pens and 5-9 m2/hd for partially covered pens.

The stocking density in some pens at two of the six feedlots was estimated to be 2 m2/hd. This was considered to be too high for the conditions. Although widespread heat stress was not observed, this density was considered high enough to potentially contribute to heat load by not providing individual animals with sufficient space to disperse heat.


The roof cover at one feedlot where bedding was provided but not replaced regularly afforded inadequate protection from rain. This resulted in unacceptably boggy conditions in several pens; however, these had been destocked due to the conditions.


Financial incentives for feedlot operators ensure the maintenance of a high standard of cattle care. Feedlot operators generally appreciated the correlation between content, well cared for cattle and increased weight gain.

Heat load was considered to be the greatest factor potentially impacting animal welfare in the feedlot environment, especially for Bos taurus cattle.

Review against the OIE Code

The conditions experienced by Australian cattle in feedlots in Indonesia were, wherever possible, assessed against the OIE Code. As a specific OIE Code does not exist for feedlots, applicable components of the OIE Code for Transport of Animals by Land and Slaughter of Animals formed the basis of the review.

Measurable aspects of the OIE Code were identified to allow performance against the OIE Code to be reviewed. These have been broadly categorised and summarised under the headings below.

Handling of livestock

Observations of the handling of livestock in feedlots against relevant articles of the OIE Code:

  • Loading and unloading procedures
    • While the receipt of livestock at feedlots was not directly observed, procedures described by the operators and the infrastructure indicated that this most likely happens in an orderly and efficient manner.
    • Discharge from feedlots was observed to occur in an efficient fashion. Principal handlers were experienced and were assisted by additional staff gaining on-the-job training.
  • Overall handling (goads, dogs, lifting or painful handling etc)
    • The use of dogs and goads was not observed although several electric goads were observed on site. Sticks were used but in a controlled fashion.
    Handler skill, experience and training
    • Each facility was observed to have at least one experienced handler who was providing informal on-the-job training for other staff.
    • One operated a three-month internship after which the intern would be employed or released. Other feedlots provided informal on-the-job training.
  • Groupings of livestock
    • Livestock were at times inappropriately grouped. Horned cattle (horns trimmed) were often grouped with unhorned animals.
    • Bulls were observed to occasionally be penned with steers and with or beside heifers (usually spayed).
    • Social groups were maintained within the feedlot.
  • Behaviour of livestock (stress, aggression etc)
    • Cattle were generally observed to be contented; ruminating and at ease.
    • Excessive teeth grinding was observed in one area of one feedlot and this was considered to be a transient dietary issue.
    • Isolated incidents of panting and coughing were observed indicating respiratory irritation and heat stress.
  • Veterinary assistance and humane disposal (if required)
    • Veterinary assistance was available at all feedlots.
    • The occasional need for humane disposal was understood although it is thought that, on occasion, cattle that are sick or injured and would normally be considered unfit to load are transported to point of slaughter so that some economic return can be salvaged.
  • Appropriate quarantine and disease control
    • Upon arrival at the feedlots, cattle are required to be quarantined in separate facilities for 14 days.
    • For the duration of time on-feed, handlers monitor the pens several times a day to identify sick animals. These were removed from the general population on an ongoing basis and treated in sick pens.
    • The approach to treatment record keeping varied among feedlots and was considered unsatisfactory in four of the six feedlots visited. This was not, however, observed to affect or necessarily impact animal welfare.
Facilities and equipment

Observations relating to the facilities and equipment in feedlots against relevant articles of the OIE Code:

  • Exposure to sights, smells or surfaces that may harm or stress livestock
    • Feedlots were generally calm, quiet and free from offensive odours.
  • Overall lairage construction (size, ventilation, safety, lighting etc)
    • Yards and loading ramps were generally well designed and maintained. While these did not always comply with the OIE Code, they were considered fit for purpose.
    • Several minor infrastructure issues were identified at each of the six feedlots. These were generally associated with distractions, protrusions and uneven surfaces in walkways.
    • The only significant design flaw observed at all feedlots was the absence of gates along races to allow the emergency release of cattle.
  • Facilities provided (feed, water, protection, bedding, ventilation, cleanliness)
    • Feedlots were generally well constructed with suitable infrastructure for the ample provision of feed and water. Some dietary issues were encountered and these were linked to a lack of appropriate dietary roughage (50-100 mm in length). In these circumstances, the feedlot feed mills were reportedly incapable of processing the ration to include long roughage.
    • Shade was generally adequate although conditions in some feedlots could be improved significantly by extending shade to cover a larger proportion of the pens.
    • Cleanliness was compromised at one feedlot where the infrequent cleaning of pens and replacement of bedding resulted in waste accumulation.
    • Ventilation was adequate in all feedlots.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting procedures and facilities
    • Most feedlots were kept clean through the regular removal of waste, changing of bedding or hosing of pens and cattle. One exception was observed where bedding was changed infrequently and waste allowed to accumulate. The accumulation of faeces under these circumstances would result in a high prevalence of bacteria and increased disease risk.

Additional considerations

Operational, commercial, religious, geographic and scientific aspects of the transport and treatment of Australian cattle for slaughter were observed where possible from the time of arrival in Indonesia by sea, through transportation to the feedlot, depot or breeding facility and then on to the slaughterhouse and through to slaughter. Areas for possible practice improvement that may promote an improved animal welfare outcome were identified. The observations recorded below relate to feedlot operation and represent a consensus opinion of the independent expert panel. Where warranted, the possible improvements have been addressed through the specific recommendations made in section 7: Recommendations, and indexed below.

  Issue Possible improvement Recommendation
  • The capacity of several feedlots to feed adequate roughage (five to ten centimetres in length) as part of a total mixed ration was limited. In such cases, roughage was generally fed following a concentrate feed mix. This is likely to have adversely affected rumen function and average daily gain and may have contributed to acidosis. This contention is supported by the presence of clumping and branching of rumen papillae observed in post mortem studies at abattoirs.
  • Heat load was observed to be the most significant issue confronting feedlots. This was managed in a number of ways including through the provision of shade and water, the hosing of animals to promote cooling (the ability of soiled Bos indicus cattle to thermoregulate is compromised by the accumulation of dirt and faeces on the skin) and the regulation of numbers of cattle in pens to allow enough space for heat dissipation. Despite an appreciation of the issue, some feedlots were struggling to manage heat load.
  • Training is required to educate feed mill and feedlot operators of the production benefits gained through the provision of adequate roughage.
  • Investment in feed milling equipment to enhance capability.
  • Education of the average daily gain benefits and reduction in morbidity delivered by managing heat load.
  • Increase in shade.
  • Education regarding appropriate densities for different types of cattle under different circumstances.
  • Hosing where cattle are kept on concrete floors without bedding.
  • Training that emphasises the commercial advantages associated with importing appropriate cattle (at least 50 per cent Bos indicus).

  • Bedding was supplied at one feedlot but not replaced often enough to prevent the accumulation of an unacceptable amount of waste. Cattle were very dirty and the accumulation of mud and faeces on the skin interfered with their ability to thermoregulate and thus contributed to heat load. Cattle were labouring to walk through the accumulated waste and their ability to control their movement was impaired.
  • Horned cattle were often boxed with unhorned cattle.
  • Training that emphasises the commercial advantages via increased weight gain associated with clean pens (increased ability to dissipate heat and less effort required to move around pens).
  • Training of feedlot operators regarding the production losses associated with dominance behaviour commonly expressed when horned and unhorned cattle are mixed.
  • Education regarding appropriate densities for different types of cattle under different circumstances.

  • Excessive numbers of people present during animal handling.
  • Conduct training to impress upon handlers the importanceof minimising stress by limiting human interaction with cattle during the early feedlot period (three to five days).
  • Train handlers regarding flight zone and point of balance.

  • There was a wide variance in the level of capability in animal handling. There was also a cultural divergence as to what constituted animal welfare and stress.
  • Implement animal handler training augmented by readily accessible tools such as a DVD showing best practice animal handling techniques.
  • Bos taurus cattle were prevalent in some feedlots and were obviously affected by the heat load. The purchase of these cattle in preference to Bos indicus was based on price and availability.
  • Review the appropriateness of exporting cattle with less than 50 per cent Bos indicus content. Poorer, cheaper cattle should be excluded from the market.
  • Training that emphasises the commercial advantages associated with importing appropriate cattle (at least 50 per cent Bos indicus).

  • N/A
  • N/A


Australian cattle observed in feedlots were generally in good condition and comfortable within the conditions. Several areas for improvement were identified and have been addressed in the recommendations. These included:

  • Technical support
    • Issues associated with infrastructure, nutrition and the handling of livestock were identified in some feedlots and these were considered best addressed through the provision of technical support to feedlot operators.
  • Training
    • Poor animal handling due to a lack of understanding of animal behaviour was observed in some feedlots. Feedlot staff would benefit from animal handler training.
  • Cattle selection
    • Some of the Australian cattle observed in Indonesia were considered unsuited to the conditions, or were being managed in a way that rendered them unsuitable. The commercial advantages of importing cattle that are fit for purpose should be communicated to feedlot operators.
April 2011

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