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Cattle weights ease on high cow slaughter

23 November 2023

Key points:

  • Carcase weights fell by 6.5kg to 308.5kg in the last quarter.
  • Increased cow turn-off caused a stronger decline in female weights.
  • Recent rain may help to stabilise weights through to the end of the year.

The release of livestock production and slaughter statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) each quarter is important for understanding how the market is operating, and what we might be able to expect over the coming months and years.

One of the key figures was the average carcase weight of cattle, which fell by 6.5kg over the quarter to 308.5kg. This was the lowest figure since early 2020 and suggests that drier conditions over the quarter are impacting condition and encouraging turn-off at lighter weights.

However, looking at the figures in more detail shows that most of the change in carcase weights came from changes in slaughter composition, and not from a major shift in condition or quality.

Male carcase weights only fell by 2.2kg, and remained above 346kg, which is well above historic averages and is close to the weights seen during 2022, an all-time peak.

Cow and heifer weights

Given this, there were two main factors in the decline in overall carcase weights. Firstly, female slaughter increased much more than male slaughter (though both did rise), meaning the female % of slaughter lifted considerably. Given that cows and heifers tend to be considerably lighter than steers and bulls, the increase in female turnoff naturally depresses overall carcase weights.

Secondly, female carcase weights fell by 9.5kg to 269kg. It is unlikely that this decline is due to markedly worse condition. If it was, there would have been a similar decline in male carcase weights. Instead, it is more likely that breeding cows were turned off in higher numbers than the previous quarter, especially if they were older or under-performing. This would pull carcase weights down, especially as these cows were less likely to have been fed before going to processors.

Looking forward

Taken together, the ABS data suggests that while the herd rebuild is over, the cattle being turned off are still of good quality and steer weights have largely held firm. Recent rain across the east coast will have a positive effect on grass cover over the summer, which means that Q4 data may show carcase weights stabilising, or at least easing by less.