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Outlook for cattle and sheep remains strong

21 March 2024

Key points:

  • Australian cattle herd eased slightly to 28.6 million head.
  • Largest lamb slaughter forecast in 2024 at 26.1 million head.
  • Lamb production to break the previous record set in 2023.

MLA’s cattle and sheep industry projections are published twice a year and provide a comprehensive outlook on the industry. This outlook includes:

  • forecasts of the national herd and flock numbers
  • beef and sheepmeat supply
  • carcase weights.

The outlook for the cattle and sheep industry is strong, with a good production forecast in 2024.  This year, Australia is expected to remain within a neutral Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), while the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) outlook indicates either an El Niño or La Niña event. Long-term forecasts for a La Niña event in 2024 are varied.

Cattle projections

The Australian cattle herd eased slightly to 28.6 million head, with the national herd expected to shrink by under 1% compared to 2023. The drop in cattle numbers is due to the assumption of drier conditions.

Slaughter in 2023 reached just over 7 million head – a 20% increase compared to 2023. In 2024, the slaughter will reach 7.9 million head, which is the highest slaughter figure since 2019.

It is expected that beef will reach the third-largest production volume at 2.5 million tonnes – 10.8% higher than 2023.

Carcase weights will continue to fall over the next two years, reaching 312kg in 2024 after reaching a record high of 320kg in 2022.

Interested in a deeper analysis? Watch the cattle projections webinar.

Sheep projections

The Australian sheep flock is forecast to reach 76.5 million head – a fall of 2.9%. The flock is not expected to enter a substantial liquidation phase and will continue to remain above the 10-year average for the forecast period.

The lamb slaughter forecast is the largest on record for 2024, reaching 26.1 million head.

Lamb production is set to reach 621,000 tonnes in 2024, beating the 2023 record. Mutton production will be the largest since 2006.

This year’s lamb carcase weights are expected to shrink by 0.3kg to 23.8kg. Carcase weights have remained close to the desired 24kg cwt for domestic production.

Want more detail? Watch the sheep projections webinar.