Australia is on track to record its highest lamb production in history for the second year in a row, with new data revealing significantly higher slaughter rates in all sheep-producing States including WA. The latest quarterly statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show lamb meat production nationwide was tracking 7.7 per cent — or 20,000 tonnes — above year-on-year levels for the first six months of 2023. Some 6,058,700 lambs were processed nationwide in the June quarter, translating to 149,385 tonnes of lamb meat — 4 per cent above the previous quarterly record set in June 2018. WA produced 17,727 tonnes of lamb meat in the same period — the second highest amount on record after the December 2016 quarter, when about 19,000 tonnes was produced. Meat and Livestock Australia market information manager Steve Bignell said the industry was on track to break last year’s national lamb production record of 537,013 tonnes, after three years of “a really solid flock rebuild”. “Over 11.5 million lambs were processed (nationwide) to June 2023, which is the second highest start to a year since 2018, when over 12 million lambs were slaughtered,” he said. “This is an extra 1.24 million lambs slaughtered when compared to 2022 — an uplift of 12 per cent year-on-year. “We’re still working through a backlog of lambs, and we hear a lot about the lack of processing capacity, but the fact that we’re actually producing a historically high amount of lamb across the board would indicate that we are coping.” In another positive sign, the figures showed the surge in lamb production was translating to higher domestic consumption. Australians consumed 193,151 tonnes of lamb meat in 2022-23 — a 7 per cent increase on the previous financial year, and the highest figure recorded since 2018. Mercado analyst Jamie-Lee Oldfield said lamb slaughter weights were weaker than expected in the latest quarter, averaging 24.7kg. She said this indicated more Merinos and females were in the mix. “Tanking wool, sheep and lamb prices across the June quarter might have encouraged sales of more female meat breed lambs and Merino lambs,” Ms Oldfield said. ‘”The Merino especially will help keep a lid on slaughter weights, and it is an indication the flock build is coming to an end.” Meanwhile, 2,550,700 head of sheep were slaughtered in the June quarter — the most since December 2019 — bringing the year-to-date total to nearly five million. “This is an extra 2,024,800 compared to the same point in 2022, equating to an additional mutton throughput of 68 per cent year-on-year,” Mr Bignell said. “Victoria is contributing the most to the big jump in mutton slaughter, with Victorian processors working through one million sheep so far this year.” Combined lamb and sheep proceeds were up on first quarter levels nationwide, with the gross value of animals slaughtered increasing by 1.9 per cent to $1.2 billion in the June quarter. Lamb and sheep producers made $4.8b for the sale of animals to processors in the 2022-23 financial year, of which WA accounted for $585m — about $66m less than in 2021-22. In the June 2023 quarter, WA lamb and sheep producers made $151.4m for sales to processors — about $5.5m less than in the same quarter last year, despite a massive increase in slaughter. Mr Bignell attributed the discrepancy to a drop in sheep prices. “In WA, we have slaughtered 1,000,020 sheep this year, whereas this time last year, that figure was only 535,400. “That means this year, for the first six months, we’ve slaughtered an extra 484,600 head, which equates to a 90 per cent uplift. “A year ago, from sheep and lambs combined, WA producers were making $177.90 (on average per head), and now they’re only making $131.50 a head at the processor — that’s a 26 per cent drop. “Last year the national average was $189.39 — roughly $12 higher than WA — and this year it was $152.96, so WA prices are now $20 lower than on the East Coast.” “With many lambs being held over we expected to see weights closer to the 25.8kg we saw in June 2022, but we can identify some reasons for this,” Ms Oldfield said.