Feedlot industry

Mapping cattle confinements

Challenge. Cattle feedlots are a rapidly growing industry in the developing world, yet national data sources are scattered and incomplete. A full depiction of the industry at the global level is currently very difficult to achieve. A detailed understanding of the dynamics in individual developing countries is also lacking.

Solution. We put together the most up-to-date information on production volumes in cattle feedlots across the world. We also combine big data and snowball sampling to produce the most detailed and current dataset of cattle confinements in the north of Brazil, including spatial and temporal information.

Context. Intensive animal farming practices are widespread in OECD countries and growing above average in the developing world. In the beef industry, systems of livestock confinement have been under scrutiny since at least the 1960s due to animal welfare as well as local pollution and waste issues.

Results. We document the expansion of the cattle feedlot industry both worldwide, from the developed to the developing world, and in Brazil, where it is moving towards the Amazon region. We show that confinements are associated with substantially higher productivity rates, that they have crop production levels 2-3 times higher than comparable properties, and that confinements have a lower on-property deforestation schedule than comparable fattening ranches in the Amazon biome.