Processing slows, genes shine

18 May 2017

Extremely strong restocking activity during the March quarter saw Australian lamb slaughter ease 5% year-on-year, to 5.6 million head.

The lower trend was registered across all states, except for Victoria where there was a 1% increase to 2.6 million head. This rise was likely due to lambs crossing state borders for processing, rather than the result of greater Victorian production.

Nevertheless, while there was a decline in national lamb slaughter, two noticeable points illustrate progress in the Australian Prime Lamb Industry over the past decade.

Firstly, the average carcase weight has been continuously increasing and averaged a record 22.96kg/head. Indeed, seasonal conditions assisted the milestone, yet genetic gains have underpinned the progress. The impact on first quarter lamb production was only a 4% year-on-year decline, to 129,000 tonnes cwt.  

Secondly, while there was a decline in lamb slaughter, the quarterly figure was in fact still the third highest start to the year on record, and 4% above the five-year average. This again evidently illustrates the continuous genetic improvements in the industry, largely in the form of flock fertility.

Moving onto adult sheep, and first quarter slaughter was heavily impacted by ewe retention, with the 1.9 million head processed down 11% year-on-year. Like lambs though, extremely heavy carcase weights (24.21kg/head) resulted in mutton production being down to a lesser degree (8%), to 47,000 tonnes cwt.

Looking forward, its highly likely the progressive totals for the year will be impacted by significant declines in the April processing activity, which was heavily influenced by the numerous Public Holidays in this year. Beyond April, the proportionate declines in sheep and lamb slaughter for the first quarter are very similar to what year-ending expectations are – i.e. with lambs totalling 21.5 million head, and sheep 5.8 million head.

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