October lamb slaughter bucks the trend

08 December 2016

October is typically one of the highest, if not the peak, month of the year in terms of Australian lamb slaughter. This has not been the case in 2016 however – October lamb slaughter was 1.98 million head, down 6% year-on-year, with the number of lambs processed in February, March and May exceeding this level (Australian Bureau of Statistics).

The drop in the October lamb kill was largely due to floods and very wet conditions across eastern Australia during the first two months of spring. There was a 21% reduction in slaughter in SA (286,555 head) in October and a 3% decrease in Victoria (900,246 head), with fewer lambs processed in Tasmania (27,145 head) and Queensland (5,436 head) also contributing to the decline. The October 2016 national total remained, however, 2% higher than the five-year average for the month.

Due to the higher kill levels earlier in the year, lamb slaughter for the year-to-October was down to a lesser extent (2%), to 18.7 million head – although still historically very high. In fact, the year-to-date total remains 8% higher than the five-year average for the ten month period (2011-2015).

Lamb production for the year-to-October was back 1% from last year, to 419,737 tonnes carcase weight (cwt) – partly offset by a 1% increase in average carcase weights over the same period, to 22.38kg/head.

As outlined in MLA’s recently released Sheep Industry Projections 2017, the rising trend in average lamb carcase weights has somewhat steadied in 2016, with a growing proportion of lambs processed weighing 14-16kg cwt/head, due to the emergence of the light lamb carcase trade. At the same time, there has been more heavy lamb carcases processed, at around 26kg/head. Furthermore, in recent months, many processors have tightened their grid specifications in line with customer demands.

MLA’s forecast for 2017 is for lamb slaughter to trend back towards 22 million head, largely underpinned by lower lamb marking rates and fewer ewes joined, and the result will flow on to reduced production and exports. While this is a decline year-on-year, 22 million head is still in line with the long-term growth trend observed over the past decade.

To read more about MLA’s Sheep Industry forecasts for 2017 and out to 2020, or to watch the video summary, please click here to follow the link

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