Overview of the Feedyard Sector

The Feedyard sector, consists of operations where cattle are fed a balanced diet for four to six months and receive daily care. The United States is the world’s largest beef producer and hosts the largest fed-cattle industry. Beef production in the U.S. is both for domestic consumption and global export. Geographically, there are cattle fed to market specifications all across the U.S. with the greatest concentrations in the Great Plains, Midwest (Corn Belt), Southwest and Pacific Northwest. Generally speaking, the cattle feeding industry utilizes grain and a variety of other byproduct concentrates to finish cattle and produce high quality grades (Select, Choice and Prime) of beef. On a retail equivalent basis, the U.S. Beef Industry creates over $100 billion of value annually.

The current demographics of the U.S. cattle feeding industry show a wide range of participants. Summary data from 2016 (USDA) counts a total of 30,219 operating feedlots. Of this total, 28,000 feedlots have a capacity of less than 1,000 head. Collectively, this group of feedyards account for about 19 percent of the inventory on feed as of January 1, 2017.

The total number of feedyards has declined over the last 20 years with larger yards marketing an increasing proportion of the fed cattle each year. In the 2016 marketing year, 259 feedyards, those with capacities greater than 16,000 head, marketed 58 percent of the fed cattle. This shift, as in many industries, is primarily due to economies of scale and the ability of larger operations to focus specifically trained employees in defined job roles thus improving efficiency.

Sustainability Assessment Guidelines

The following Sustainability Assessment Guidelines (SAGs) have been developed for each of the six primary sustainability indicators which will allow individual operators to assess their own operations in order to gain a perspective of where they fall on the continuum of the sustainability spectrum.

For each of the six sustainability indicators the respective SAG will include:

• A description of the indicator to ensure a clear understanding of the intent of the indicator.

• The metric selected to measure the indicator and a description of what that metric implies.

• Supporting guidelines which elaborate on the context of the metric. A core premise of sustainability is demonstrating continuous improvement over time. These lists of supporting guidelines address various elements of the metric. Individual producers may or may not be addressing all the items asked in the supporting guidelines for a particular SAG. Knowing what some of these additional elements are, however, creates the opportunity for that producer to consider addressing those items going forward. Action on the part of the producer to address these other items over time is a means of demonstrating continuous improvement.

• Resources for implementation. These tools may include: recommended practices for improving a particular metric, summary of existing information for that metric, tools (software, apps, hardware, etc.) for supporting metric assessment, case studies, and technical support information.

• A key tenet of sustainability is managing any operational task so as to strive toward continuous improvement. As you work through this self-assessment, please think through the guidelines listed below and how you plan to implement (if not already a part of your standard processes) as well as means to monitor change/progress over time. Incorporating guidelines such as these into routine process reviews will potentially improve both the efficiency and sustainability of your operation.


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