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Southern Australian cattle impacting indicators

22 September 2023

Key points:

  • Saleyards in southern Australia are making up a bigger proportion of indicator throughput compared to a year ago.
  • Southern cattle numbers that have grown over the past three years are starting to enter the market.
  • Southern saleyards such as Dubbo and Wagga have doubled their contribution to key indicators at the expense of Roma, Dalby, Emerald, Charters Towers and Gracemere.
  • Current weather conditions in QLD and the extended length of the southern rebuild are the key drivers of this trend.

In 2022, most cattle indicators were dominated by QLD saleyards as restocker sentiment was strong in the north. Fast forward 12 months and there has been a seismic shift in the composition of most cattle indicators.

The herd rebuild in southern Australia kicked off when drought-breaking rains fell in March 2020. Favourable seasonal conditions in southern Australia continued for the next three years until late 2022. As a result, the herd rebuild in southern Australia was far more advanced than in northern Australia, where the drought only broke in late 2021. Therefore, cattle supply in southern Australia is greater than that in northern Australia.

We are starting to see this increase in supply of southern cattle play out in the finished and feeder cattle indicators. Below are the changes in the feeder, processor cow and heavy steer compositions over the last 12 months on a location basis:

Feeder steer

Saleyard 2022 contribution 2023 contribution
Roma 24.81% 9.09%
Dalby 11.37% 10.26%
Charters Towers 11.05% 1.33%
Wagga 9.89% 18.72%
Dubbo 5.95% 12.54%

Heavy steer

Saleyard 2022 contribution 2023 contribution
Gracemere 21.6% 0.46%
Dalby 18.61% 3.66%
Emerald 11.76% 2%
Dubbo 11.38% 7.43%
Tamworth 5.5% 2.29%
Wagga 2.41% 20.98%
Shepparton 1.35% 9.21%

Processor cow

Saleyard 2022 contribution 2023 contribution
Dalby 12.66% 6.03%
Charters Towers 10.73% 4.00%
Roma 10.33% 4.76%
Dubbo 7.37% 14.98%
Emerald 6.75% 4.65%
Wagga 6.55% 10.85%
Carcoar 1.14% 6.09%

As the cows used to power the southern rebuild are culled and start to enter the market, saleyards such as Wagga and Carcoar are transacting more animals of this specification. Similarly, we are observing steers born during the rebuild reach feeder weights and as such, southern states are starting to dominate the feeder indicator – in stark contrast to 2022.

The trend of southern states increasing their contribution to indicators is also pronounced in the restocker-focused Eastern Young Cattle Indicator (EYCI) but to a lesser extent. In the EYCI, Roma still contributes the most animals to the indicators. However, its contribution has halved over the past 12 months.

The weather in Queensland is also impacting this change in indicator composition. With a drier than average first half of the year in southern Queensland, the northern Australian rebuild will be shorter and less intense than the southern one. This will have a medium-term impact on saleyard throughput of finished animals in Queensland. Another consideration is that Queensland may experience more paddock and direct sales into processing and feedlot channels.

Interestingly, despite the increase in supply coming from the south, these southern yards are still generally commanding a premium to northern ones, except for feeder steers. Going forward, expect the supply of finished southern cattle to continue for the short-term.