The latest data published by the Department of Agriculture shows that 25% of beef throughput for the first quarter of 2024 was sourced from holdings farming under the status of a controlled finishing unit (CFU).

The 115,000 cattle drafted for slaughter represents an increase of 6,000 head or 5.5% compared with the first three months of 2023.

The increase occurred in January (40,000 head) and February (39,000 head), with throughput in March (36,000 head) marginally down on the previous year.

The number of animals farmed under CFU status increased significantly since 2020, as demonstrated in Figure 1, with numbers remaining static in the region of 415,000 head during the last three years.

The number of cattle originating from CFUs comprised approximately 16.4% of the kill in 2018, 16.6% in 2019 and 2020, 20% in 2021 and approximately 23% in 2022 and 2023.

This is due in large part to an increase in the number of holdings categorised as CFUs, with between 380 and 400 holdings possessing this status.

CFU operations

CFUs are often referred to as feedlots due to the fact that they were previously known as such.

Their name changed to reflect the wider nature of farming systems covered, with such holdings differentiated by the fact that they are restricted under the bovine TB eradication programme and, as such, have to follow certain conditions.

Farms designated as CFUs are holdings which operate a specialised finishing system and do not deliberately possess any breeding animals. All animals on the holding can only leave the farm for direct slaughter and, in the eyes of the Department, must pose a low risk to surrounding herds.

For example, boundaries must prevent any contact with neighbouring livestock, with double fencing put in place.

TB testing must take place periodically, with the testing interval determined by the risk it poses to other herds and wildlife, but herds are not eligible for TB compensation.

CFUs can purchase animals without restriction and can purchase animals from herds that have movements restricted.