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Millions of livestock migrate from west to east

03 June 2021

Key points:

  • 2.47 million sheep, lambs and cattle have been transported from WA to the eastern states since 1 January 2020.
  • 115,735 cattle have been sent from west to east since January 2020, representing 32% of the 359,523 head moved since 2009.
  • WA’s flock, especially Merinos, is significantly liquidated, which will impact the live export trade and will rely on successive strong seasons to support its rebuild.


Since 2009, an average of 2,429 head of cattle per month have been delivered from WA to the eastern seaboard. Between 2020 and the year-to-date in 2021, that number has lifted to an average of 6,807 head per month, a rise of 64.3%.

The drought-breaking rain on the east coast that began in March 2020 led to 17,981 head transported east, with numbers rising by 62% month-on-month, or 11,151 head. The onset of widespread rainfall resulted in frantic buying from producers chasing restocker cattle following the drought. These east coast producers were sourcing cattle from wherever they could, including from WA.  

Significant rain has created a migration pattern. In January 2021, widespread rain once again fell in eastern Australia and numbers rose by 35% compared to December 2020. This delivered 12,328 head to the eastern seaboard for the month.



Sheep supply from west to east in 2020 operated parallel with lambs. In May 2020 more sheep than lambs were transported east. In this month there were 35,395 more sheep sent eastward than lambs, totalling 121,792 head for the month.

It is evident that eastern demand for sheep during the early stages of the drought-breaking rainwas insatiable. Following the widespread rain from March to June 2020, 767,000 sheep and lambs were transported from the west to east, averaging 192,000 head a month, well above the traditional average since 2009 of 27,459 sheep and lambs per month.



Since 2009, lambs transported west to east have averaged 18,887 head a month. From the start of 2020 up to May 2021, an average of 75,921 lambs were transported a month. This was an increase of 57,000 on average, or 75.1%.

In similar instances to the sheep flock migration, lambs transported experienced a sharp rise prior to, and following the drought-breaking rain around March 2020. When the WA spring flush hit the market, lambs again experienced a sharp rise. This was due to WA producers looking to capitalise on strong market conditions in the eastern states and make better returns on investment rather than selling to the historically softer WA market.

© Meat & Livestock Australia Limited, 2021