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Cattle and sheep slaughter remain elevated

27 July 2023

Key points:

  • The return of most processors after winter maintenance/shutdown periods has lifted slaughter numbers, which remain elevated across cattle and sheep.
  • Processors’ prioritisation of kill floor space between lambs and sheep continues to play out, with an easing in lamb kill numbers recorded this week.
  • The presence of key supermarket, processor and export buyers in the saleyards is helping to boost demand.

Elevated year-on-year slaughter has been occurring most weeks across cattle, sheep and lambs this year. Increased supply on the market and cheaper livestock prices have led to processors filling contracts weeks in advance.

During winter, yardings generally tighten. Most processors take this time to complete their shutdown and maintenance periods, hence the significant decrease in slaughter numbers every winter. These planned shutdown periods are now coming to an end, with most processors back online. As a result, there was a lift in slaughter numbers this week (according to NLRS data released on Wednesday 26 July).

Cattle slaughter

Cattle slaughter strengthened 2.4% week-on-week, 20% higher than the same week last year. Queensland plants have been able to maintain fairly stable slaughter over the last month, supporting the easing in numbers in southern states.

NSW dipped to 28,607 head last week and has now increased by 11% week-on-week. National numbers are up by 28% or 685,175 head year-to-date, indicating the current supply on the market.

National female slaughter reached 48.5% this week, with some states (NSW, Victora and WA) recording very high female percentages. Low female slaughter in Queensland is bringing the national average down. Victorian female slaughter is usually much higher than in other states, as most of the dairy herd is in Victoria.

Sheep slaughter

Sheep slaughter increased 120% week-on-week after dipping below 2022 levels. This follows shutdown periods as well as seasonal lows during joining season. Sheep yardings are beginning to increase again as weaning is completed and producers cull older ewes retained during the rebuild.

Sheep slaughter has remained elevated this year, with total yearly slaughter 63% or 1,636,779 head higher year-to-date. Last year, producers were still retaining ewes for breeding due to favourable seasonal conditions and strong restocking remand. This week, NSW sheep slaughter increased by 148% week-on-week and Tasmania increased by 121%.

Processors’ prioritisation of kill floor space between lambs and sheep continues to play out, with an easing in lamb kill numbers recorded this week. NSW lamb slaughter eased by 5% or 5,429 head. Tasmanian lamb slaughter had the largest percentage change week-on-week, softening by 21%.

In the market

In the sheep and lamb saleyards, the return of key supermarket, processor and export buyers has been helping demand in a market with increasing yardings. For cattle, there was some activity from southern buyers in northern saleyards, which is typical for this time of year and supports prices in these areas.

Good winter conditions in the south should result in good lamb and calf drops this season. These new-season young lambs should start moving through the market in the coming months.