Skip to main content

Moving beef cattle up the Steps

By July 2, 2016May 26th, 2021Archives

Did you know that while the G.A.P. program permits feedlots, we have also seen the development of a new ‘Pasture Fed’ system?

G.A.P.’s 5-Step® Animal Welfare Rating Program is a multi-step program, allowing for many types of production systems (indoor, outdoor, pasture-based) to participate and become certified. Operations can work their way up the Steps by moving from an indoor to an outdoor or pasture-based system. But what does this multi-tier system look like for beef operations, where our standards require that all cattle (no matter the Step level) have access to the outdoors?

As we mentioned in one of our other ‘did you know…’ posts, many cattle producers specialize in a particular stage of production, so for this post we want to focus on the finishing part of the beef cattle business. In this stage, cattle are sometimes brought into a confined area, called a “feedlot”, so they can be more closely monitored and fed a diet containing grain. Though at Steps 4, 5, and 5+ cattle must remain on pasture for finishing, both Step 1 and 2 beef operations permit the use of feedlots.

In order for a feedlot to be certified, the operation must meet the following minimum requirements:

  • Provide each animal with at least 250 sq ft of space
  • Ensure that cattle are given continuous access to forage (grass, hay, silage etc)
  • Monitor all pens so sick or injured animals are promptly removed and cared for
  • Ensure that cattle spend at least 2/3 of their live on pasture

Additionally at Step 2, pens are required to have shade and structures (brushes, scratching posts etc.) so animals can groom themselves.

When we first launched the G.A.P. Program, Step 4 beef was occupied solely by grass fed operations. Since then, several of our partners have developed ‘pasture fed’ programs, where animals are finished on pasture, but are fed a ration that contains grain. Animals can graze the pastures as they wish, but are also provided with a ration similar or identical to, the one they would receive if they were finished in a feedlot. This innovative way of finishing animals has also driven change at the cow-calf and stocker level. Since the entire life of the animal has to be certified to Step 4 in order to be marketed as such, operations doing business with these ‘pasture fed’ finishers must also meet their higher level rating. This is a great example of how beef operations have used the Program to make changes that improve the lives of the animals, and provide them with additional business and economic opportunities.