Beef production in a feedlot begins with a diet made up of forages and is changed slowly until it is comprised of about 90 per cent grain. Grain-finishing produces tender, marbled beef. The cattle have plenty of room to move around in the open air feedlot pens and have free access to feed and water. Cattle are monitored daily to ensure their health and dietary needs are being met and to watch for any indications of potential issues. Cattle will typically spend 60 to 200 days in a feedlot where they are fed nutritionally balanced rations until they reach the optimum weight for being sold to a processing plant and processed into beef.
The development of feeding rations is a very precise science. Feed for cattle must supply enough energy, protein, minerals and vitamins to meet the nutritional requirements of the age of the cattle being fed.
Feeding rations change as animals go through the finishing process. The starter feed ration for a 450 lb to 600 lb animal coming off pasture into the feedlot is high in roughage, such as hay. To compare, the ration for a 1,100 lb to 1,200 lb steer that is almost finished is high in grains.
It takes approximately 2.7 kilograms (6 pounds) of feed grain to produce 0.5 kilograms (1 pound) of edible beef. This is comparable to the feed grain conversion efficiency of other major meat animals.