Cattle on Feed Numbers: A Look Around the World

Santa Gertrudis cattle eat at the Tungali feedlot in South Australia.

Most countries produce beef for non-farm consumers, often using grains and forages to sell high-quality products at a relatively low cost. But having a large commercial feedlot component of the beef sector is mostly still the domain of just a few countries, led by the U.S.

Besides the U.S, Canada, and Australia, no other countries have statistics to give perspective on the role of commercial feedlots. Mexico has an expanding feedlot sector. Some South America countries (e.g., Uruguay, Brazil, and Argentina) have grown, but the feedlot sector is still small relative to the size of their cattle sectors, commercial feedlot capacity. The same applies to Russia and Kazakhstan. New Zealand has a few feedlots (the largest with a capacity of about 20,000 head), usually with Japanese affiliations. Other countries in Europe and elsewhere (e.g., Japan) feed cattle but mostly on a small scale, which is primarily individual farm-based. Let’s take a brief look at the recent numbers for the U.S., Canada, and Australia.

In the U.S., the number of cattle on feed has been on the rise for several years due to cyclical herd expansion. The November 1, 2018, monthly survey of feedlots with 1,000 head or more capacity by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), showed 11.7 million animals on-feed, up 3.2% year-over-year. That was the biggest November 1 count since 2011. As of January 1, 2018, NASS put the number of cattle in all U.S. feedlots at 14.0 million.

CanFax reports monthly the number of animals in Alberta and Saskatchewan feedlots, where most Canadian commercial lots are located. As of November 1, 2018, those two Provinces had 925,900 cattle in feedlots, which was the largest for that date since 2008. Nationally, Statistics Canada reported 1.4 million head in all feedlots as of January 1, 2018. In contrast to the U.S., to provide animals for feedlots, the Canadian beef cowherd has not grown much in recent years. According to Statistics Canada, the beef cowherd has been virtually unchanged since January 1, 2015. This year, drought has been a factor pushing cattle into Canadian feedlots.

Australia has the third largest number of cattle on-feed. According to the quarterly report from Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA), at the end of September this year, there were 1.1 million cattle in feedlots. Year-over-year the increase was 9.9%. The Australian feedlot inventory has been on a steady uptrend since the MLA survey began in 1991. Ten years ago, the inventory was about 733,000 animals. Note that the first time the number exceeded 1 million head was 2017. Currently, more cattle are in feedlots in part because of drought-induced herd reductions. Also, Australia's grain-fed export markets in Asia, including China, have been expanding. MLA has reported that relatively high feedstuff costs have been a limitation to even more cattle on-feed in Australia.