Market watch – domestic cattle and sheep markets

21 February 2018

Lower female slaughter saw beef carcase weights increase in 2017, offsetting the decline in slaughter. Poor seasonal conditions slowed the sheep flock rebuild during winter and early spring, followed by a late break in the season, which revived some restocking activity.


In December 2017, Australian adult cattle slaughter totalled 504,453 head (ABS), back 3% year-on-year. This brought the national kill for the calendar year to 7.16 million head, down 2% from the 2016 total. Despite the dry conditions experienced in winter and spring the herd rebuild remains underway, particularly in the south, reflected in lower female proportion of slaughter nationally.

In SA, the female proportion was 34% for the 2017 calendar year, down 7 percentage points from 2016. NSW and Victoria both decreased by 3 and 2 percentage points, to 47% and 57% respectively. Queensland’s female proportion remained firm on 2016, at 40% of the state’s annual kill. Female slaughter is expected to remain in rebuild territory in 2018, if weather permits.  

On the back of lower slaughter numbers in December, production for the month totalled 150,762 tonnes carcase weight (cwt) – similar to year-ago levels. This took total production for 2017 to 2.13 million tonnes cwt, an increase of 1% from 2016.

The national monthly average carcase weight for December was 298.86kg cwt, up 2% year-on-year. The average carcase weight for the calendar year was 297.61kg, an increase of 3% from 2016. This was largely driven by a lower proportion of female cattle in the national kill. Another driver for this increase was the record numbers of cattle on feed in 2017, with three consecutive quarters  over one million head  (March, June and September).



In December, national lamb slaughter totalled 1.71 million head, back 15% year-on-year. It is important to note that this is off the back of two historically high December totals in 2015 and 2016. December 2017 was more closely aligned to 2013 and 2014 levels, and just 4% lower than the five-year average for the month of 1.78 million head. This brought the national total lamb kill for 2017 to 22.4 million head, down 2% from 2016 levels.

A very dry winter and start to spring slowed flock rebuilding efforts, with many producers having to turn off stock, and a surge in processing during these months as a result. A late break in the season and above-average rainfall across many key sheep producing regions during December revived restocking activity and encouraged producers to carry over stock to reach heavier weights.

Following lower slaughter numbers, Australian lamb production for December was 37,548 tonnes cwt, 18% lower than year-ago levels. This brought the total for the year to 509,221 tonnes cwt, similar to 2016. The national lamb carcase weight for December was the lowest monthly average recorded since September 2016, at 21.95kg. The average for the calendar year was similar to 2016 at 22.72kg.


The opposite trend was true  in sheep, with December slaughter up 18% year-on-year totalling 656,096 head. However, a reduced ewe flock in 2016 meant this comparison was from a lower base. Compared to the five-year average for the month, December 2017 was down 12% - with the aforementioned seasonal conditions influencing producers’ rebuilding intentions. Total Australian mutton slaughter for 2017 was 7.54 million head, up 8% from 2016.

Mutton production in December increased 14% year-on-year to 16,233 tonnes cwt, reflecting the rise in slaughter. Total production for the year reached 188,434 tonnes cwt, up by 11% from 2016. The average carcase weight for December was 24.74kg, back 3% year-on-year. This may reflect the poorer seasonal conditions seen, throughout the country. The national average for the 2017 calendar year was 24.96kg, up 2% year-on-year. 

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