Australia Sees Fewer Cattle on Feed, High Prices to Thank

May 19, 2016 08:25 PM

The first quarter of 2016 saw the number of cattle on feed in Australia drop 8.3% from the last quarter of 2015. That was a slide of 4.3% or 44,239 head from the same quarter last year.

According to a quarterly survey conducted by Australian Lot Feeders’ Association (ALFA) and Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) there were 914,902 head of cattle in feedlots from January to March. Western Australia was the only state not to see a decrease in feeding numbers.

The slide in cattle on feed is likely attributed to record prices in Australia, says ALFA president Tess Herbert.

“Paddock purchased feeder steer prices increased 32% year-on-year averaging 323.13c/kg ($1.059/lb. liveweight)” Herbert says. “We also saw a record breaking Eastern Young Cattle Indicator in February, reaching 605.75c/kg ($1.987/lb. carcass weight).”


Fodder (hay, silage and straw) prices are down approximately 22% from last year, while wheat has dropped 15%. The lower feed costs have helped offset the high price of cattle in Australia, Herbert says.

Meanwhile, Australian exports of grain-fed beef was up 3% from the same quarter last year.

“There was a large volume shipped to Korea, which jumped 63% from last year to 13,187 tonnes shipping weight (swt) (26,374 U.S. tons), while 5,154 tonnes swt (10,308 U.S. tons) were exported to China,” says Ben Thomas, MLA manager of market information.

“On the other hand, there was an 18% decline in grain-fed shipments to Japan, to 29,208 tonnes swt (58,416 U.S. tons),” Thomas says. “Despite the fall, Japan still accounted for 47% of the quarter’s total grain-fed exports.”

Thomas attributes the increase in overall exports to the high number of cattle on feed in the final quarter of 2015. There were 997,764 head of cattle on feed to end 2015, while there were 82,862 fewer head in lots the first quarter of this year.

In the U.S. cattle on feed actually increased during the USDA’s latest report with placements rising 5% and a total of 10.9 million cattle in feedlots on April 1. The U.S. has almost 12 times as many cattle on feed compared to Australia.

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