Safely navigate legislation and welfare issues when establishing a new feedlot

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

  • Due to the negative elements associated with feedlots, such as pungent odours, excess manure, dust, flies and the like, their construction requires careful planning.
  • Any feedlot must comply with a number of regulations in terms of the National Environmental Management Act, 1998 (Act 107 of 1998).
  • Animal welfare is a key consideration when setting up a feedlot, and in this regard the size of the feedlot plays a big role. A bigger space for the animals to move in means that fewer animals will be injured or harmed.
  • The National Water Act, 1998 (Act 36 of 1998) plays a key role in the planning, construction and management of a feedlot.
  • Due to animals constantly bumping into them, feedlot fences, posts and gates need a sturdy foundation.

Any industry has various pieces of legislation and regulations that dictate what you can and cannot do, and how you must do it. This is especially applicable in industries than can potentially make life difficult for people or can even cause them harm.

Erecting a new feedlot falls into this category. Due to the negative elements associated with feedlots, such as pungent odours, excess manure, dust, flies and the like, their construction requires careful planning. Pieter van der Merwe, director of REC Services, is a specialist in the field of environmental management and water licences for feedlots. Stockfarm talked to him about the legal aspects pertaining to the construction and management of a feedlot.

Read more about general feedlot management principles.

Environmental impact study

Any feedlot must comply with a number of regulations in terms of the National Environmental Management Act, 1998 (Act 107 of 1998), says Pieter. However, feedlot builders aren’t always aware of this.

“Before you can start constructing your feedlot and as part of the application for environmental authorisation, an environmental impact study must be carried out when certain limits are exceeded. These limits have to do with the density and quantity of animals to be kept in the feedlot,” he explains.

In short, limits are determined as follows:

  • If the density exceeds 20m² per animal and if more than 500 head of cattle are to be kept at any one time, an environmental impact study must be carried out.
  • In the case of sheep, a study is necessary if the density is more than 8m² per sheep or goat and more than 1 000 units are housed at any given time.

“Both scenarios require an environmental impact study to be conducted, specifically a basic environmental impact study as prescribed by legislation and submitted to the provincial government for approval.”

Read more about feedlots and respiratory diseases.

Animal welfare

Animal welfare is a key consideration when setting up a feedlot, and in this regard the size of the feedlot plays a big role. A bigger space for the animals to move in means that fewer animals will be injured or harmed.

“A feedlot that is too small makes for a number of practical problems. Large and small stock must be able to move around comfortably. “The space and density per head of cattle can be 13 to 15m² and for sheep around 4m² per animal. This will give you a good indication of pen size.

“It’s difficult for workers who need to examine animals or check for diseases and injuries to move around in a small, cramped feedlot. To add an extra layer of protection, small- and large-framed cattle should preferably be separated to prevent bruises and injuries. It is easy to overlook abnormalities, diseases and injuries in small-framed cattle if they are kept in the same pen as large-framed animals,” explains Pieter.

A processing facility or area, where sick and injured animals can be treated and checked, must be included when planning the feedlot. Protection from excessive heat and cold is also vital.

This feedlot section also requires the installation of a weighing scale, a crush for dosing, storage room for sprays and spray equipment, a place to discard used syringes and tubes, recreation and dressing rooms for workers, and washing-up and toilet facilities.

Read more about feedlot versus veld finishing.

Water legislation

The National Water Act, 1998 (Act 36 of 1998) plays a key role in the planning, construction and management of a feedlot. In this regard, an environmental practitioner can be a big asset to a prospective feedlot owner.

“Feed mixes can be adjusted and transported to the site, but if you want to operate a large feedlot there must be enough water for the animals. When working out your water requirement, keep in mind that cattle drink around 50 to 55 litres of water per day and sheep between 1 and 5 litres per day. However, in hot, drier areas it can be more,” warns Pieter.

Enough water must therefore be available. “The feedlot’s stored water must be enough for a 72-hour period in the case of power outages or problems with defective pumps. The number and type of livestock will determine your water requirements.”

Application for a water licence

A drilling contractor, preferably under the supervision of a geohydrologist, should be appointed to ascertain whether enough groundwater (borehole) is available. If this is the case, a water licence application must be submitted to the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) before any groundwater can be extracted for use.

“Section 21 of the Water Act regulates water usage by a feedlot (or for any other commercial purpose). Boreholes must be tested according to the standard prescribed by the DWS. This is accompanied by a geohydraulic report prepared by the geohydrologist, indicating the condition and especially sustainability of the underground water source. This report must be based on accurate tests,” explains Pieter.

A number of additional factors pertaining to animal welfare must be considered when establishing a feedlot. While not regulated by specific pieces of legislation, it can be addressed in the environmental impact study. The state veterinarian in the area can make an early and valuable contribution in this regard. The same applies to feedlot design and construction specialists who can advise on materials to use as well as functional layout. Feel free to contact an environmental practitioner in this regard.

Important tips

In addition to the size of the feedlot, a number of other factors must be noted in terms of planning, construction and maintenance:

  • Due to animals constantly bumping into them, feedlot fences, posts and gates need a sturdy foundation.
  • Galvanising or regular painting of metal partitions and joints is essential.
  • After construction or maintenance work, workers must collect any sharp objects or loose bits of cement.
  • Sharp, angular materials must be avoided and after construction or maintenance, there should be no sharp surfaces or objects that could lead to injuries.
  • The feedlot’s slope should be between 2 and 4%, if possible, with feed troughs placed at the highest point.
  • The feedlot should be as far away as possible from marshy areas and must be at least 150 to 200m away from a natural drainage point such as a stream, river or marshy area.
  • Functional stormwater drainage is required. Building a manure dam for accumulating manure mixed with rainwater will be to your benefit, as it can be spread on cultivated fields as fertiliser.
  • Prevailing wind directions must be taken into account when planning the feedlot if the land in the area is used for guesthouses, resorts, hotels and schools that are sensitive to smells.
  • Dust and odour control and the control of flies are extremely important.

Pieter advises prospective feedlot operators to join the South African Feedlot Association (SAFA) for support and guidance. – Koos du Pisanie, Stockfarm

For more information, phone Pieter van der Merwe on 082 412 7571.