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Slaughter and production – key insights from ABS

18 November 2021

Key points:

  • Lambs slaughter in the September closed close to 6 million head, the highest it's been in over three years 
  • The female cattle slaughter percentage fell to 44.4% – demonstrating the herd rebuild is well underway
  • Cattle carcase weights remain above 313kg – only 400g shy of the quarterly weights hit in June

This week, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released its quarterly slaughter and production statistics for the September quarter. The statistics paint a bright picture for both cattle and sheep producers, with goat statistics to be released next week.  

Lamb slaughter 

Lamb slaughter in the September quarter was 5.96 million head, the highest its been since June 2018, and the second highest Q3 slaughter on record. This reinforces the strength of the flock rebuild and the size of the 2020 and 2021 lamb cohorts. It also allays any consumer and export concerns around supply. In totalan extra 814,000 lambs were processed in Australia in Q3 this year compared to last year.  

This September, Victoria processed 52% of Australia’s lambs, up from 46% last September when the state was subject to strict COVID-19 restrictions. During September 2020, NSW was able to increase its processing capacity to take the excess lambs that were unable to be processed in Victoria. In September 2020, NSW processed 26% of Australia’s lambs, 4% more than it did this year. This highlights the Australian processing sector’s ability to be flexible when logistical challenges arise. 

Sheep slaughter 

Sheep slaughter in September was 1.4 million head, the highest it had been since March 2020. From the June quarter, this represented a rise of 12.6%, or 156,500 sheep. This highlights that the sheep rebuild is already maturing and that producers are looking to offload their older and cull animals.  

The increase in sheep slaughter in Q3 has flowed through into higher exports.  

Lamb and sheep carcase weights 

Lamb and mutton carcase weights averaged 23.9kg and 25.1kg, respectively, for the September quarter. These are not record carcase weights for lamb but are so for mutton. The slight dip in carcase weights for lamb can be attributed to the colder conditions this winter that may have impacted spring pasture growth slightly. These lamb weights sit within the preferred weight for supermarkets, which is between 2325kg.  

Cattle herd rebuild 

Traditionally, the national herd is considered to be in a rebuild phase when the female kill percentage drops below 47%. The most recent ABS data indicated that the national female slaughter rate was 44.4%  reinforcing that Australia is officially in a herd rebuild.  

The low female slaughter percentage also demonstrates the shortage of female cattle being sent for processing. This shortage of female cattle is the reason the Medium Cow Indicator is trading at record levels.  

Cattle slaughter 

There were 1.6 million head of cattle slaughtered in the September quarter this year, the most in any quarter. It is encouraging that there has not been a significant drop in cattle slaughter quarter-on-quarter.  

While slaughter of Victorian cattle fell by 17,000 head in September, Queensland slaughter increased by over 90,000 for the quarter.  

On a carcase weight basis, the average weight of adult cattle was 313.1kg in September. While carcase weights fell in most of the eastern states, carcase weights in WA and Tasmania rose to record levels. In Tasmania, adult cattle carcase weights rose 6% to 320kg, the heaviest in Australia.