Lethbridge county cattle feeders

What happens on an Alberta feedlot? Shipwheel Cattle Feeders is proud to share their story:

Hauntingly beautiful perspective of a Kasko Cattle Co. feedlot operation, located in Coaldale, Alberta

Meet the impressive team at Van Raay Paskal Farms Ltd. and learn about life on a southern Alberta beef feedlot!

A bird's eye view of a day in the life of a feedlot operation at Kolk Farms Ltd.

Cattle in Canada spend most of their lives on pasture while only spending 60 to 200 days in a feedlot. Feedlots focus on efficient growth and weight gain, reducing the need for cattle to forage for food. Key to the success of Alberta’s cattle feeding sector is the sheer number of feedlots, their combined capacity, and a diverse range of feedlot sizes. Although they represent the largest feedlots in Canada, the majority of Canadian beef cattle feedlots are still family-owned and operated with three generations working on them.

Alberta’s feedlots are located close to the country’s largest processors and meat packers — 80% of Canada’s processed cattle are located in Alberta.

The feedlot is the most intensive component of the beef production chain because this is where the final stage of the process occurs and where a significant portion of value is added.


The purpose of feedlots is to feed cattle to grow and gain important body fat and muscle over a period of three to five months, with a target weight of around 1400 pounds or 635 kilograms.


Before cattle are introduced into the feedlot cattle handlers will separately identify each animal, record their individual identification numbers, weight, age, and breed. Cattle are also checked by qualified staff to ensure they are healthy and vaccinated against disease. Then they are moved into spacious pens, allowing each animal ample room to behave naturally in terms of movement and interaction. To ensure the cattle are comfortable during their stay, bedding is added regularly for resting and frequent removal of animal waste ensures optimal health and wellbeing. While in the feedlot, cattle are given ample amounts of clean, fresh water on a regular basis.

Finishing Diet

The nutritious and easily digestible finishing diet consists of a very precise and high-energy ration (80% grain-based and 20% forages) to ensure a balance of health, growth, and meat quality. The grain is mainly barley in Alberta with  the forages being a mix of silage and hay. Cattle initially entering the feedlot are not immediately put on such a concentrated diet, but are gradually fed this combination over a two-week timeframe.

Grain feeding plays an essential role in the beef industry’s ability to provide its consumers with premium, flavourful beef.  

Health Monitoring

Each animal on a feedlot is supervised daily by qualified staff and veterinarians to ensure animals are safe, stress-free, and healthy. Cattle in the pens are checked daily for signs of illness, distress, and injury.Should any animal display signs of illness, it is recorded, separated, treated, and does not return to the herd until it is given a clean bill of health by a licensed veterinarian.

Weight gain and feed intake require diligent monitoring as they determine readiness for processing.

Finished Cattle

Once cattle reach a target weight of 1400-1500 pounds, they are ready to go to market.

Preconditioned Cattle

  • A preconditioned animal is a feeder calf that has been vaccinated, castrated, dehorned and weaned for 30-45 days prior to sale date and has had experience feeding from a bunk.
  • Preconditioning reduces stress and resulting health problems for the transition period when the calf is being weaned from the cow and starting to consume dry feed.
  • Preconditioning offers advantages to both the buyer and seller of the calf. The seller benefits from higher weight gains resulting in more dollars per animal. The purchaser receives a calf that is familiar with a feed bunk,will continue to grow and is less likely to become sick.
  • When properly advertised, preconditioning provides the seller with a marketing edge over sellers of similar calves.
  • Preconditioning adds value to the calves. Their conditioning to the feedlot environment places them in higher demand from similar calves. Find sale techniques that properly describe this feature of preparedness.
  • Develop a protocol for treatment and handling of calves specific to your area. Include your veterinarian as an independent third party verifying that the work has been done according to the protocol. Keep detailed records of what has been done and have these records available to prospective buyers.
  • While research indicates that feedlots can benefit from preconditioned calves they must have confidence in the calves they are buying. This can be done documenting calves back to the herd of origin or participating in a recognized preconditioning program.
  • Preconditioning is very beneficial for placement of calves into a custom feedlot where the cow – calf operator retains the ownership of the calves. Lower death losses, lower medical costs and improved weight gains improve net profit to the owner.
  • Creep feeding calves prior to the start of the preconditioning program improves the willingness of the calves to change over to dry feed.
  • Studies on preconditioning show that after accounting for factors such as weight, grade, sex, feed prices and lot size, preconditioned calves brought higher prices.
  • Feedlot studies show that preconditioned calves are lower risk economically due to lower disease incidence. Calves able to withstand disease pressures perform better during their feeding period.
  • Considering various protocols of drug treatment for incoming cattle, Oklahoma researchers conclude that the only real solution to disease losses is prevention, such as value added cattle that have been preconditioned.

Fact Sheets

Calculator: What is the Value of Preconditioning Calves?

Costs and Benefits Associated with Preconditioning Calves

Effects of Age and Method of Castration on Performance and Stress Response of Beef Cattle

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