While there has been very little change to the key market factors in the first six weeks of 2014, the official Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) slaughter and production figures for 2013 clearly demonstrate just how unprecedented the previous year was regarding the supply and turnoff of cattle, lambs and sheep. Unfortunately, the catalyst for the record year was the widespread drought conditions, which centred in Queensland after the failed 2012-13 wet season and quickly spread to cover the majority of the eastern states by years end.
At an official 8.34 million head, Australian adult cattle slaughter reached its highest annual level since 1978 – up 991,800 head on 2012. Illustrating the rapid liquidation of the national herd as drought conditions deepened, the female slaughter jumped 23% in 2013, to 3.9 million head – or an additional 741,000 head compared with 2012.
The average weight of adult cattle slaughtered contracted 3% annually, or almost 10kg/head, to 277.4kg/head. Australian beef production hit a record 2.32 million tonnes cwt for the year – exceeding the previous high by almost 160,000 tonnes cwt, as the proportion of beef and veal exported surged to a record 68.6% of production.
Punctuated by spreading drought conditions in NSW as the year progressed, lamb slaughter reached a record 21.9 million head in 2013 – an increase of 9% on the previous year, with production hitting 469,893 tonnes cwt. As per beef, the additional lamb produced was consumed in export markets, with a record 53.2% of production exported. While not reaching the total numbers slaughtered when the Australian flock was much higher, sheep slaughter for 2013 jumped 46% year-on-year, to 9.6 million head. Given the extent and severity of seasonal conditions in 2013, coupled with preceding years of herd and flock expansion, the turnoff rates witnessed through the past year are very unlikely to be registered again in coming years.