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Numbers on feed remain steady

12 May 2023

Australia’s latest feedlot survey results, published by the Australian Lot Feeders’ Association (ALFA) and Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA), show numbers of cattle on feed rising by 1.1% to 1,158,240 head in the March quarter.

Previous cattle price buy-in pressures together with stubbornly low utilisation rates across the quarter has meant cattle on feed has remained steady - which analysts said was a theme likely to continue in the short term.

ALFA’s President Barb Madden said the national numbers had remained firm quarter-on-quarter.

“We’ve seen improvements in numbers on feed in Victoria, NSW and WA - but a fall in Queensland has meant our overall national numbers remained steady,” Mrs Madden said.

Numbers on feed in Victoria, NSW and WA rose by 29%, 23% and 10% respectively, while Queensland numbers dropped 4.6% or 31,096 head across the quarter.

We’ve seen an adjustment in Queensland numbers on feed reflective of market conditions and previous cattle buy in pressures that have impacted margins,” Mrs Madden said.

“The good news is our national capacity grew yet again with a further 22,689 head or 1.5% throughout the March quarter to total 1.56 million head, reflecting further investment and confidence in the role feedlots play in Australia’s beef supply chain.

Ripley Atkinson, MLA’s Senior Market Information Analyst, said year-on-year grain-fed export figures for the quarter were in good shape.

“Our quarter-on-quarter exports for March this year have remained steady - but when you look at year-on-year numbers we’re seeing a lift of 6% or 4,313 tonnes, and that’s encouraging,” Mr Atkinson said.

On the cattle supply side, while feedlot buyers experienced reduced feeder steer availability through the saleyards during the quarter, average weights were at a record high.

“The supply of feeder steers offered for sale via the saleyards declined by 36% or 22,718 head in the March quarter, with major reductions seen in NSW and Queensland.

“However, while there was reduced feeder steer availability through the yards, feeder steer weights rose by 2% to 425kg per head, representing the heaviest average weight of feeder steers sold via the saleyards on record,” Mr Atkinson said.

Mr Atkinson also said wheat prices for the Darling Downs had strengthened in the March quarter and that the continuation of historically elevated grain prices together with high cattle prices would likely pressure lot feeders’ profitability and margins.