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Strong demand for females amid herd rebuild

22 October 2020

Key points:

  • Eastern states female cattle slaughter continues to decline
  • Producer intentions to rebuild is clear, with subdued female supply entering saleyards
  • Prices for female categories in saleyards have surged since June as competition intensifies

The female cattle market has been performing well in 2020 due to the tightening supply of breeding stock and increased competition as producers look to rebuild herds. A comprehensive analysis of the female cattle market with National Livestock Reporting Service (NLRS) saleyard data will provide an assessment of where market sentiment lies heading into the back end of the year.

Female slaughter trend

At the beginning of 2020, female turnoff remained elevated in Queensland and NSW as ongoing poor seasonal conditions meant producers destocked their herds. Following widespread rainfall in early March across the eastern seaboard, producer intentions shifted to a herd rebuild, which saw the number of females entering saleyards decline rapidly. This was not enough to offset elevated turnoff earlier in the year, with the ratio of females slaughtered to every 100 males averaging 92 head from January to June. Despite total cattle slaughter easing throughout the year, the decline in female slaughter rates continued through July to September, with the NLRS reporting the female to male slaughter ratio at 86:100 head. For the first three weeks of October, the ratio was reported at 79:100 head, as fewer female cattle have entered saleyards with producer intentions to restock remaining robust.

NSW and Queensland


July-Sept Sept-week ending 16 October
Average weekly female total 43,665 39,564 34,126
Females killed to every 100 males 92 86 79


Saleyard supply

Given that the proportion of females killed is decreasing at a higher rate than males, saleyard throughput and prices provide a snapshot of buying and selling behaviour and market sentiment.

The below table illustrates the current saleyard total female supply breakdown for the week ending 16 October (N.B. these totals were higher than the average trend since June due to a spike in female cattle sold last week).

Yearling Heifer Total head % of eastern states total Average weight Buyer breakdown
Queensland 4,731 56% 286kg Restocker = 54%
Feeder = 28%
Processor = 18%
NSW 3,087 36% 363kg Restocker = 32%
Feeder = 42%
Processor = 26%
Victoria 667 8% 424kg Restocker = 9%
Feeder = 11%
Processor = 80%

Last week, NLRS saleyard data indicated the majority of yearling heifers were sold out of Queensland, with strong store competition supported by restocker buyers, who took 54% of the share. In NSW, 42% of yearling heifers sold to feedlots, with 80% of Victorian yearling heifers heading to processors. The figures indicate the effect of the season on current saleyard throughput.

A higher availability of feed in southern states has allowed producers to capitalise on historically high prices, with heavier young cattle entering the market. In NSW, feeders are buying more heifers than restockers, suggestive of demand for mid-weight heifers targeted for specified feed programs to further finish, along with a low supply of young heifers available for restockers. A drier winter in Queensland has meant larger sums of lighter heifers are being sold with less finish – a prime target for restockers for whom gaining a fair share of female cattle continues to get harder, on the back of tightening supply and increased competition, and driving female prices higher.

The following table highlights the progression of the cattle market since June, and where demand currently sits for female categories.

June to week ending 16 October

Price Yearling Heifer Grown Heifer Cow
Queensland Up 50c to average 406c/kg lwt last week Up 31c to average 327c/kg lwt last week Up 28c to average 279c/kg lwt last week
NSW Up 19c to average 401c/kg lwt last week Up 30c to average 350c/kg lwt last week Up 26c to average 302c/kg lwt last week
Victoria Up 13c to average 377c/kg lwt last week Up 21c to average 352/kg lwt last week Up 22c to average 300c/kg lwt last week

Prices for all categories went up across all eastern states on the back of the aforementioned factors, with Queensland experiencing the highest price growth, especially for yearling heifers. When adding increases by state, yearling and grown heifers have jumped 82¢ since June, while cows have increased by 76¢, indicative of strong demand for all female categories.

© Meat & Livestock Australia Limited, 2020