Feedlot numbers on way up towards national herd target

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Bob GarnantCountryman
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Borden feedlotter Paul O'Meehan is feeding increased numbers of Wagyu.
Camera IconBorden feedlotter Paul O'Meehan is feeding increased numbers of Wagyu. Credit: Zach Relph/The West Australian, Zach Relph Picture: Zach Relph

There were more than 46,000 cattle in WA feedlots at the end of last year, up more than 8000 head compared to the September quarter and in line with the national increase to 1.04 million head.

Meat and Livestock Australia and the Australian Lot Feeders’ Association’s latest quarterly feedlot survey revealed the number of cattle on feed across Australia increased during the December quarter, while national feedlot capacity eased.

It also revealed the number of Aussie cattle being grain fed had remained above one million head for three years, with the December rise coinciding with high cattle prices.

The number of cattle on feed nationally at the end of December was up 37,985 head compared to September, with feedlot numbers increasing in every State except Queensland.

In WA and Victoria, the number of cattle on feed increased by more than 20 per cent, by a respective 8364 and 9853 to finish at 46,302 and 56,816 head.

Hyden feedlotter Trevor Hink said WA’s increase was expected at this time of year because calves were ready to enter feedlots.

“It is a natural swing of numbers as spring calves enter the feedlots,” he said.

“Numbers will drop back in the June quarter, particularly in the south when it is too wet.”

Mr Hink said there were not a lot of calves around in WA this year, with processing figures expected to drop.

“I expect kill numbers will come back, unless the Pilbara — which is having a good season — can increase its supply,” he said.

Hyden feedlotter Trevor Hink said the increase of calves on feed was a natural swing this time of the year when spring calves begin to enter WA feedlots.
Camera IconHyden feedlotter Trevor Hink said the increase of calves on feed was a natural swing this time of the year when spring calves begin to enter WA feedlots. Credit: Bob Garnant/Countryman, Bob Garnant

Great Southern feedlotter Paul O’Meehan, of Borden, said his Wagyu contracts led to a boost in the number of cattle he had on feed.

“We are feeding 1400 head of Wagyu from two main suppliers, with one wanting to increase numbers on feed significantly,” he said.

“Wagyu must be fed grain to maintain quality standards and we are feeding them 200 to 350 days for top results.”

The survey found grainfed cattle experienced smaller rises in SA and NSW, with cattle on feed up 11 and 6 per cent, respectively.

In contrast to all other states, the number of cattle on feed in Queensland fell during the December quarter, down 0.5 per cent to 588,692 head.

National utilisation for the December quarter was up slightly, from 70 per cent to 73 per cent, reflecting the increase in cattle on feed.

Capacity for the quarter remained at the historically high level of 1.4 million head.

Cattle on feed numbers typically increase in the southern states across summer, as pasture availability is limited in this time.

However, the result of the survey demonstrates that the jump of cattle on feed for December 2020 was not as large as in previous December quarters.

This was largely due to the improved seasonal conditions throughout 2020 for southern states and heavy summer rains experienced in Queensland in December.

The increase of cattle on feed in December 2020 coincided with high feeder steer prices.

These high feeder prices were offset by high grainfed over-the-hooks prices and low feed costs.

From an export perspective, grainfed beef exports grew in the quarter despite the Australian dollar appreciating against the local currencies of all key export markets.

Grainfed beef exports were up 21 per cent for the quarter to 82,783 tonnes shipped weight, with Japan remaining the largest destination for grainfed beef.

The survey results and export data reinforce that the grainfed sector is an important component of the Australian beef sector, and confidence in lot feeding is high.

The next survey will be conducted for the April quarter.

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