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Cattle projections

Australia’s cattle herd reaches highest level in a decade

Key points

  • The national herd continues to grow, reaching 28.7m head, its highest level in a decade.

  • Cattle slaughter is forecast to rise strongly from 2022 lows as processing capacity improves.

  • Production forecast to increase strongly in 2023.

The growth of the Australian national cattle herd is on track to increase throughout 2023, resulting in a high supply of both young cattle and finished weight animals to market well into 2024.

This is according to the latest Cattle Industry Projections update from Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA), which notes that the national cattle herd will reach its highest level since 2014 at 28.7m head.

With the national cattle herd reaching its highest level since 2014 this year, stocking rates in southern Australia, particularly in New South Wales, are at levels well above long-term averages. Northern Australia will develop its herd rebuild on the back of a very strong wet season generally.

According to Senior Market Information Analyst at MLA, Ripley Atkinson, a continuation of female retention in northern Australia will ensure the rebuild for this region continues, while the breeding herd in southern Australia will reach levels above long term averages in 2023. 

“The longer-term outlook of higher supply is ensured, with the above-average marking rates continuing despite a forecast return to average or below-average seasonal conditions,” Mr Atkinson said. 

“The genetic investment producers have made in building a productive, fertile breeding herd during the past three years will contribute significantly to delivering continued high supplies of young cattle into 2024.” 

Beef production is forecast to strongly increase this year as a result of improvements in processing capacity so far in 2023, higher slaughter volumes and historically elevated carcase weights.

Slaughter for 2023 is forecast to reach 6.95 million head, a revision upwards of 5% or 325,000 head on MLA’s January figures. Driving the higher volume this year will be:

  • Strong numbers of grassfed steer turn-off from key production regions of Queensland, including the Channel Country

  • Significantly higher numbers of cast-for-age cows as numbers of breeding females on-farm allow the turn-off of older stock.

“Processors are continuing to manage higher supplies of slaughter weight stock and this trend is expected to continue for the remainder of the year,” Mr Atkinson said.

“So far in 2023, the cattle market has operated as it typically does throughout the first six months of the year,” Mr Atkinson said. 

“It’s not uncommon for higher turn-off of stock leading into winter to place downward pressure on price.

“However, the previous three years have been the exception due to the rebuild following years of drought, and the impacts of COVID.

“In considering these major events, it is important to acknowledge these years were outliers when it comes to examining trends in cattle prices.” 

As part of the report, MLA also collates price forecast information from industry analysts. These analysts’ forecasts to the end of the year indicate a stabilisation in prices relative to the volatile market of 2022, although with forecasted levels to be below longer-term averages for both the EYCI and the Feeder steer.

Based on current rates, analyst forecasts to 31 December are for the EYCI to be 546¢, a 10¢/kg carcase weight (cwt) or 2% decline. If this forecast eventuates, the price would be 13.5% or 85¢ lower than the 10-year average.

The remainder of 2023 is expected to see continued improvements in both supply of cattle and beef to market as slaughter rates increase.

View a full copy of MLA’s June 2023 Cattle Industry Projections here.

To access radio grabs of Ripley Atkinson discussing the MLA cattle projections, click here.