NSW young cattle quality lifts

25 June 2015


The quality of young cattle coming through NSW saleyards appears to have picked up in recent months but it’s a different story in Queensland and Victoria. The rain received in December and January and, more recently, in April and last week has seen an improvement in the quality of young cattle coming through NSW saleyards. In the days and weeks following, rain gives producers confidence to hold onto unfinished stock while, in the subsequent months, it ensures there is sufficient feed to grass finish cattle to slaughter weights.

Drought over the past three years has meant that many producers have been forced to offload cattle early – fortunately, the feedlot industry has been a willing recipient, with cattle on feed recently increasing to record levels. As illustrated in Figure 1, the ratio of finished (400kg+, C3) to unfinished (200-400kg, D2 & C2) yearling steers in saleyards has gone from a high in 2011, of about 0.5 and 0.6 in NSW and Queensland, respectively, to a below 0.3, as a result of the ongoing drought. That is, in the case of NSW, for every ten unfinished yearling steers there were previously five finished ones, however by mid-2013 there were only three. Similar trends were observed across cattle markets in SA and Victoria (Figure 2).

 

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Following rain events over the past few months, pasture growth – as recorded by the Queensland Government’s Science Delivery Division of the Department of Science, Information Technology and Innovation (DSITI) – during the December-May period has been “average” to “above average” for most of NSW, with the north-western and central regions the exception. The Northern Tablelands through to the Central Tablelands have recorded “above average” to “extremely high” pasture growth.

In contrast, with a mostly failed wet season in Queensland, pasture growth over the previous six months has been “average” to “extremely low” for most of the state. However, areas in the south-east and up the coast to Rockhampton have received “above average” to “extremely high” pasture growth.

Rain, and subsequent pasture growth, has had a flow on effect on the makeup of young cattle coming through saleyards. In NSW, as illustrated in Figure 1, the proportion of finished yearling steers on offer has returned to, and even exceeded, pre-drought levels. In contrast, with many cattle through Queensland saleyards still coming from western and central parts of the state, the marked quality improvement, as witnessed in NSW, has not ensued. However, many of the additional finished trade cattle being turned off pasture in south-east Queensland would likely go direct-to-works and therefore would not be picked up in the above analysis. Nor does it account for the increasing number of trade cattle being finished on grain, particularly prevalent in Queensland.

 

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With “average” to “above average” rainfall in south-east SA – where the majority of cattle and NLRS reported saleyards in the state are located – over the past six months (BOM), and subsequent “average” to patches of “extremely high” pasture growth (DSITI), the proportion of finished cattle coming through saleyards has also increased. In contrast, after a dry winter and autumn last year, as well as a below average rainfall start to 2015, there has been no evident pick up in the quality ratio of young cattle coming through Victorian saleyards, as illustrated in Figure 2. It should be noted that the ratio of finished to unfinished yearling steers in Victoria and SA is much higher than NSW and Queensland – one driver for this is the prevalence of the feedlot industry, with a much higher proportion of grain finishing occurring further north.

The lack of any upward shift in the quality ratio of young cattle in Victoria may, in part, explain why the EYCI eligible cattle across the state, with the notable exception of NVLX Barnawatha, continue to average 20¢/kg cwt below those in NSW.

The dynamics of finished and unfinished yearling heifers have mostly followed a similar trend as the steers across each of the states.

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