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MLA: Record lamb slaughter and higher sheep turnoff to drive Australian flock decline

Olivia FordCountryman
MLA’s latest Sheep Industry Projections predicts Australia’s sheep flock to drop slightly as a result of higher sheep turnoff and record lamb slaughter.
Camera IconMLA’s latest Sheep Industry Projections predicts Australia’s sheep flock to drop slightly as a result of higher sheep turnoff and record lamb slaughter. Credit: Josh Fernandes / The Livestock C

The Australian sheep flock will drop slightly by just under three per cent to 76,500,000 head in 2024, according to Meat and Livestock Australia’s latest Sheep Industry Projections.

The elevated turnoff of unproductive breeding stock, caused by average weather conditions in 2023, has resulted in a 46.7 per cent lift to sheep slaughter, which will drive the slight drop in Australia’s sheep.

The decline comes after three years of consecutive growth from the 2020-2022 rebuild phase which saw “impressive marking rates” across the sheep flock.

MLA Market Information manager Stephen Bignell said the sheep turnoff would apply mostly to older, unproductive ewes, meaning this year’s lamb cohort would be solid, but slightly smaller than past years.

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“The current resilience of the sheep flock means that high lamb slaughter will have a less intense impact on the national flock size than in previous maintenance periods,” he said.

“Meaning that there will be a decrease in overall flock numbers, but not as dramatic as in comparative years.”

Mr Bignell said the sheep flock is expected to stabilise and remain above the 10-year average after 2024.

Australia’s record lamb slaughter will also drive the flock decline, with just under 600,000 tonnes of lamb produced in 2023, an 11.6 per cent increase from 2022.

Lamb production is projected to reach 621,000t this year, a nine percent increase compared to 2023 figures.

MLA predicts Australia’s high production will increase globally traded sheepmeat volumes.

“Economic resilience in the United States and emerging markets will drive demand for lamb, while the outlook for consumer demand in China remains uncertain,” Mr Bignell said.

“Regardless, a shortage of competitor proteins will encourage imports of sheepmeat in high protein consumption markets.”

Mutton production will be the largest since 2006, with 254,000t predicted to be produced in 2024.

Looking further ahead, fewer breeding ewes will be turned off in 2025.

In 2025 and 2026, the sheepmeat industry is expected to head towards a transitional period with production stabilising.

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