Australia’s cattle herd to reach largest size in nearly a decade

National herd expected to reach highest level by 2025
calendar icon 10 February 2023
clock icon 3 minute read

The Australian Beef industry and cattle herd are well positioned to capitalise on changing global supply dynamics in 2023, according to a press release from Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA). This year will be a year of transition and maturity for Australia’s cattle herd, with any increases in numbers now beyond rebuild status, with all key production metrics forecast to improve this year, according to the latest Cattle Industry Projections update from MLA.

Continued rainfall and favourable seasonal conditions seen last year will ensure that there will be solid supply of both young and slaughter weight cattle over the next two years, regardless of seasonal outcomes.

Southern Australia will continue to drive increases in cattle numbers, particularly New South Wales, with supply improvements also expected from southern Western Australia, South Australia and Victoria to different extents.

In the north, 2022 saw favourable seasonal conditions for large parts of Queensland, driving the beginning of the state’s herd rebuild and an improvement in female numbers. Northern Australia’s rebuild is expected to gain significant pace this year.

Overall, the cattle herd in 2023 will grow to its highest level since 2014, reaching 28.8m head, an increase of 1.1m or 4.5% year-on-year. According to MLA’s Senior Market Information Analyst Ripley Atkinson, this growth is underpinned by a few key factors.

“The record retention of females for 15 consecutive months, coupled with above-average marking rates has delivered larger calf drops. This bodes well for supply to increase substantially in 2023 for both young and slaughter-weight cattle,” Mr Atkinson said.

“Both of these metrics suggest that the lowest or most significant retention of stock on record occurred for the year. This underpins the positive growth in numbers forecast for the next three years

By 2025, the national herd is expected to reach its highest level since the 1970s at 29.6m head, before a steady decline. This continued growth is due to strong female reproductive performance, genetic improvements across the herd and sound on farm management.

Input prices and cost of production will be major factors affecting the ability of the sector to remain productive and efficient.

In addition, the availability of skilled and unskilled workers to manage the increased supply of cattle in 2023 will be the major issue affecting the red meat industry. The processing sector’s ability to process cattle will determine production levels and therefore exports in 2023.

MLA’s Market Information team have recognised this with a two-scenario forecast for 2023.

“If labour concerns are not addressed within the processing sector, slaughter is forecast to reach 6m head,” according to Atkinson.

“Based on actual supply of cattle this year, the forecasts indicate an uptick in numbers to 6.625m head.”

2023 will be a year of transition for the cattle industry according to Atkinson.

“Positive outcomes along the entire supply chain seem likely as the exceptional operating conditions on-farm continue," he said.

“The overall outlook for Australia’s beef industry both domestically and internationally is one of optimism and positivity, whilst it continues to deliver high quality beef in larger volumes, this is expected to be a major feature in 2023,” he added.

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