Exciting results for Australia’s beef industry

Headshot of Adam Poulsen
Adam PoulsenCountryman
Wellard cattle in a feedlot at the Wyndham port.
Camera IconWellard cattle in a feedlot at the Wyndham port. Credit: Clare Alcock/The Kimberley Echo

Australia’s beef industry is on a record-breaking run, with new figures revealing grain fed cattle accounted for more than 50 per cent of the national slaughter for the first time ever in the final quarter of 2021.

During the same period, feedlot capacity — the number of cattle approved to be on feed — hit a record high of more than 1.45 million head.

Meanwhile, grain fed beef increased to a record 54.5 per cent of total beef production, up from the five-year average of 44.8pc.

That’s according to the Australian Lot Feeders’ Association and Meat and Livestock Australia’s quarterly survey results, released last week, which indicates continued confidence in the long-term future of the beef feedlot sector.

Cattle on feed for the October to December quarter increased to about 1.16m nationally — a 41,000 head increase from September — with WA recording a massive 39.4pc lift to reach a total 40,193 head.

The WA figure was in line with historical seasonal trends, according to the MLA, with the State’s Mediterranean climate generally prompting more cattle to be sent to feed in summer and early autumn when feed drops.

South Australia and NSW also recorded increased numbers of cattle on feed, lifting by 21.4pc to 44,096 head, and 9.5pc to 330,997 head, respectively.

Australia’s biggest cattle producing state, Queensland, recorded relatively stable numbers of cattle on feed, which fell by 0.1pc to 689,399 head.

Victoria recorded a more significant drop, down by 9.8 per cent to 55,326 head.

The survey also confirmed that for the sixteenth consecutive quarter, there were more than a million head of cattle on feed nationally.

Cattle at the Kylagh Feedlot, Mount Stirling.
Camera IconCattle at the Kylagh Feedlot, Mount Stirling. Credit: Bob Garnant/Countryman

ALFA president Barb Madden said the figures represented an exciting milestone for the sector.

“While the results are indicative of the current trading conditions and supply movements, they also reflect the ability of the lot feeding sector to consistently meet the demand from domestic and international markets for quality grain fed beef,” she said.

“Grain fed cattle representing over 50pc of the total slaughter in Australia in a quarter reinforces, and builds on, the trends we have seen throughout the year — that feedlots are providing continuity of supply in a period of low production and slaughter.

“Utilisation (the number of cattle currently on feed as a percentage of capacity) for the December 2021 quarter rose by 3pc, to 80pc.

“This has been achieved in a period when total capacity hit an all-time record high, meaning feedlots are able to fill the extra pens that are coming online.”

The increased proportion of feedlot cattle being slaughtered led to new record male carcase weights nationally (343.1kg/head) and in WA, Queensland, Tasmania, Victoria and SA.

“WA — the state with traditionally the lightest cattle — was still recording weights above 300kg at 308kg, a 10kg jump for the quarter,” an MLA spokesperson said.

“Male carcase weights in Tasmania and Queensland exceeded 350kg/head at 352kg and 353.3kg respectively.

“The national female carcase weights were 279.7kg/head — not as high as the 280.6kg recorded in Q1 of 2021.”

MLA Market Information manager Steve Bignell said the growing difference between feeder steer prices and grass-fed bullock prices was providing producers with an incentive to send males into the feedlot system.

“The Queensland 100-day grain fed steer OTH price averaged 723.04c/kg cwt in the December quarter,” he said.

“This was the first time that this indicator had reached levels above $7.

“As we head into 2022, the grain fed sector is positioned very well — supply is up, capacity is up, and prices are high.”

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