Slaughter numbers bounce back

Key points:

  • Slaughter volumes for cattle were up 13% week-on-week and sheep slaughter has recovered to reach its highest seasonal levels in three years, at 107,014 head
  • Lamb slaughter is up 17% week-on-week and is expected to remain smooth due to greater supply from the ongoing flock rebuild
  • Calf slaughter dipped from 3,670 to 4,551 head, while goat slaughter has dropped to 18,598 head.

National slaughter volumes for cattle, sheep and lambs have bounced back quickly after the Easter period. The capacity of processing facilities was affected during the month of April by the series of public holidays and challenges with maintaining supply.

The increase in slaughter over the last couple of weeks can be attributed to a backlog from the feedlot sector.

Cattle slaughter

Cattle slaughter numbers were up 13% to 90,967 head week-on-week but still softer year-on-year by 4,200 head.

Sheep slaughter

Sheep slaughter has recovered well to reach its highest seasonal levels in three years – up 15,769 head year-on-year. This week alone, sheep slaughter is up from 83,999 head to 107,014 head.

The dip shown in the following chart for the coming weeks is due to seasonal volatility usually seen during the middle of winter, when producers are retaining ewes during lambing.

Lamb slaughter

A dip in lamb slaughter to come will also be attributed to the seasonal supply around breeding time, although it may not be as pronounced.

Lamb slaughter is expected to remain smooth across this breeding season due to the greater supply resulting from the ongoing flock rebuild. Having such a long stretch of short selling weeks has forced producers to hold on to their lambs for a little longer. This backlog will now need to be flushed through the processing facilities.

While prices for lambs may not be as high – with this increase in supply already placing downward pressure on markets over the last six weeks – supply is expected to be consistent and buoyant throughout the year.

As seen in the chart above, lamb slaughter is currently up 17% week-on-week and 8,377 head up year-on-year.

Calf and goat slaughter softens

Calf slaughter experienced a fall this week, dropping to 3,670 head from 4,551 head. This is a significant difference from the large increase in calf slaughter seen this time last year, with calf slaughter numbers down 1,537 head year-on-year.

Meanwhile, goat slaughter has softened significantly over the Easter period after reaching a record high of 36,610 head from three months ago. Goat slaughter only reached 18,598 this week, which is just under slaughter volumes seen this time last year. This could be due to the increased processing of smaller carcases as seen in the sheep and lamb slaughter figures.

Slaughter outlook

The above-average rainfall forecast by the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) for a large proportion of the country moving into winter could encourage producers to hold on to livestock and continue the herd rebuild and flock growth.

With the herd rebuild maturing, industry can expect an increase in supply moving through the processing facilities from southern cattle and a greater portion of grassfed turn-off in the second half of 2022, as cattle born in spring 2020 and autumn 2021 reach processor weights.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 issues, labour shortages and shipping or logistical issues will continue to create challenging conditions across the supply chain. Shortages in labour are already a problem, along with isolation requirements and port closures globally. Moving forward, national processing facilities face the challenge of coping with supply.

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