MLA predicts slight drop in Australia’s cattle herd after record year

Olivia FordCountryman
Conditions point to a positive outlook for the cattle market.
Camera IconConditions point to a positive outlook for the cattle market. Credit: Colin and Linda McKie/WAFarmers

The Australian cattle herd is expected to ease by less than one per cent by June as the industry maintains current turn-off rates, according to Meat and Livestock Australia’s latest Cattle Industry Projections.

As well as the slight herd drop, MLA has also forecast neutral climate conditions, a lift in the slaughter rates and the contraction of the US beef market, all of which are contributing to a positive outlook for the year ahead.

Female retention in Australia’s cattle herd remained above long-term averages especially in the northern production systems, which has signalled the herd entering a maintenance phase.

MLA market information manager Stephen Bignell said the northern Australian cattle herd in particular had been staying in a growth phase partially because female retention remained above average.

“Following an above average wet season across much of the north of the country, the cattle herd is expected to grow further, especially as consistent rainfall events brought on by cyclones and low-pressure weather systems continue throughout the summer,” he said.

“For the southern herd, we expect it to constrict further into 2024 as it reaches maturity.”

MLA also reported a resilient breeding herd as a result of cattle producers’ focus on genetics and productivity during the 2020-22 rebuild.

Mr Bignell said this meant the herd reaction to higher turn-off rates would be less severe than in previous years.

“We expect solid numbers of young cattle in the coming seasons both through the northern and southern systems,” he said.

MLA predicted slaughter rates to rise, potentially driving production close to record levels in 2025.

Despite this, labour availability is still a concern for processors.

MLA has also predicted a year of opportunity for Australian beef in the global market.

United States, Australia’s key supply competitor, has forecasted an easing to its drought conditions across key cattle producing regions leading to a “strong and extensive” herd rebuild.

This rebuild is predicted to signal a contraction in US beef supply.

MLA predicted this would create an opportunity for Australian beef in the global markets, and the solid domestic supply would support strong demand for live cattle exports in major markets.

Looking at the weather, MLA predicted neutral Indian Ocean dipole, while the El Nino–southern oscillation outlook predicts Australia will likely leave the El Nino phase by May.

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