Dry conditions drive winter cattle and sheep slaughter

17 October 2018

Limited rainfall across Australia’s key production regions saw winter female cattle slaughter rise to the highest levels since 2014, and also led to a four-year low in lamb carcase rates.


Year-to-August slaughter up 10% year-on-year

For the month of August this year (latest available ABS data), national adult cattle slaughter totalled 743,000 head, up 10% on August 2017. Year-to-date slaughter also sits 10% above 2017 levels, with the increase driven entirely by cows and heifers. Nationally, year-to-August female slaughter was up 22% on 2017, while male slaughter was down 1%.

Winter female slaughter spike:

Dry conditions have driven winter female slaughter to levels not seen since the drought years of 2013–15. June to August national female slaughter was up 23% on 2017 figures, at over 1.1 million head. While winter female slaughter saw a strong year-on-year increase in Queensland (24%) and NSW (23%), the sharpest rises were recorded in Victoria (31%) and WA (37%).

August marked the fourth successive month in which the proportion of national female slaughter surpassed 50% of total kills, at 52%. On a 12-month rolling average basis, the figure has risen to 49%, indicating the continuation of a herd liquidation phase.

Carcase weights fall in line with heightened female slaughter

In August, male carcase weights rose 4kg year-on-year to 330kg/head, while female weights declined 13kg to 247kg/head. The drop in female weights, combined with a higher proportion of female slaughter, saw the national average carcase weight for adult cattle fall 10kg year-on-year, to 286kg/head.

Year-to-August beef production up 8% year-on-year

August beef production totalled 213,000 tonnes carcase weight (cwt), which saw the year-to-date figure surpass 1.5 million tonnes cwt, up 8% year-on-year.


August lamb slaughter down 19% year-on-year

Difficult growing conditions resulted in a supply shortage of finished lambs during August. Nationally, lamb slaughter totalled 1.59 million head for the month, down 19% year-on-year. Elevated slaughter for the first half of the year pushed year-to-date slaughter to a record 15.4 million head, up 5% year-on-year.

Lamb carcase weights fall to a four-year low

In August, lamb carcase weights averaged 21.4kg/head nationally, which was the lowest monthly average since December 2014. The combined factors of fewer lambs and lighter carcase weights saw August lamb production fall 24% year-on-year, to 34,000 tonnes carcase weight (cwt). Year-to-date lamb production remained 4% higher than 2017 levels, at 351,000 tonnes cwt.


August sheep slaughter up 57% year-on-year

In August, national sheep slaughter was up 57% year-on-year, to 1.05 million head. While all states experienced year-on-year growth, Victoria made the largest contribution in terms of volume, with the state recording its highest monthly sheep slaughter since December 1993 at 470,000 head.

Sheep carcase weights rise above 24kg/head

The national average carcase weight for sheep was 24.3kg/head during August, up from 22.7kg/head in July. While saleyard reports pointed to an increase in lighter sheep yardings during winter, the rise may be a sign producers began to offload better-conditioned ewes and wethers as feed and water became scarce.

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