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Quarterly national lamb slaughter highest on record – while cattle and beef remain level

17 May 2024

Key points:

  • Lamb slaughter reaches record numbers – just shy of 7 million processed over the last quarter.
  • Total sheepmeat production up 5% for a record quarter of 236,710 tonnes of production.
  • National Female Slaughter Rate (FSR) for cattle tipped just over 47%, though two quarters needed for an official destock.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has released its official livestock production and slaughter figures for the first quarter (Q1) of 2024. The figures cover the quarterly statistics on livestock slaughtered, meat production, and the gross value of livestock slaughtered across the first three months of the year.

Sheep and lambs

Lamb slaughter once again reached record numbers, with just under 7 million processed over the quarter. The exact figure of 6.935 million head is a 3% lift on last quarter's throughput and 32% above Q1 2023. Lamb production also reached record volumes up 8% on last quarter and 48% on last year with 167,000 tonnes produced.

Quarter-on-quarter lifts to carcase weights drove the production increase as producers moved to offload older lambs in preparation for the next season. Additionally, positive rainfall seen over the tail summer months supported finishing for producers across the eastern states. Average carcase weights came in at 24kg, which is equal to the 5-year average.

Records were also seen across many states, with Victoria tipping last year's production record, which despite experiencing a slight ease in slaughter numbers, achieved its second largest slaughter figure on record. NSW and WA both had their second highest slaughter, up 18% and 2% respectively, while lamb production in WA saw an impressive 95% jump compared to Q1 2023.

Sheep slaughter lifted, but not beyond the record levels of 2019. A total of 2.785 million head was processed across the country, up 4% on last quarter. Despite a lift in slaughter, easing carcase weights caused a drop in production, with 69,000 tonnes of mutton produced. Carcase weights fell below the 5-year average to 25kg. Figures show just an 800g difference in average sheep and lamb carcase weights.

When combining sheep and lamb statistics, sheepmeat production was up 5% for another record quarter of 236,710 tonnes and  sheepmeat slaughter of 9,720,600 head, achieved the highest combined slaughter figure since December 1987.

In gross value of livestock, sheep and lamb slaughter produced $1.257 billion of value which equates to an average of $126/head, a sound recovery from the $94/head attained last quarter.


ABS cattle slaughter and production figures were less volatile quarter-on-quarter, as national slaughter fell 2% to 1.811 million head, despite being up 17% in the same period last year.

Beef production eased by 1% to 571,000 tonnes, however similar to slaughter, was up 20% on last year's statistics. Small changes in production can be attributed to carcase weights remaining relatively stable, increasing from 313kg to 315kg.

South Australia was the only state where slaughter and production increased at 2% and 4% respectively. In WA there was an 8% dip in slaughter rates and a 5% decline in production, likely driven by an extended period of drier conditions in the state.

The gross value of beef cattle slaughtered is up 10% on last quarter to $3.204 billion, making value per animal $1,769 which is 24% above Q4 2023.

The national Female Slaughter Rate (FSR) (the proportion of adult females slaughtered against the total adult cattle slaughter) was 47.05% for Q1 which is a slight lift on the previous quarter. This brings the 12-month rolling average FSR to 47.7%.

The FSR is used as an industry benchmark for a technical herd liquidation and rebuild. An FSR above 47% indicates a destock, however the industry is not officially in a destock as there have not been two consecutive quarters above 47%. If the FSR remains elevated into the next quarter, we will reassess whether the herd is in liquidation.