Sheep Feedlots

Last updated 28 January 2021

The use of intensive finishing systems (also known as confined paddock feeding and feedlotting) for lambs and sheep is steadily increasing in Australia, mainly due to continued demand for lamb export. Animals housed in feedlots are fed grain diets and require considerably less space than animals being pasture fed. These systems are also being utilised to maximise profits within the ‘prime lamb’ industry.

‘Grain finishing involves financial risk, in particular lamb deaths, shy feeders and unexpected changes in market prices for lambs and feed.’ – Agriculture Victoria

Sheep sentience

A study by Universities Foundation for Animal Welfare proved, unsurprising to anyone who has spent time with them, that sheep feel a wide range of emotions, just like we, or our companion dogs and cats do.

It is concluded that sheep are able to experience emotions such as fear, anger, rage, despair, boredom, disgust and happiness because they use the same checks involved in such emotions as humans. For instance, despair is triggered by situations which are evaluated as sudden, unfamiliar, unpredictable, discrepant from expectations, and uncontrollable, whereas boredom results from an overly predictable environment, and all these checks have been found to affect emotional responses in sheep.

Sheep release high levels of cortisol, the primary stress hormone, the same way humans do, in frightening circumstances. Studies have shown the release of cortisol in sheep awaiting their death in abattoirs, during shearing and during painful mutilations like tail docking.