Australian cattle herd to ease slightly to 28.6 million head

The Northern Australian cattle herd is expected to grow further, while the Southern herd is expected to constrict this year. PHOTO: MLA

Following three years of herd growth leading to the largest cattle herd in 10 years in 2023, the Australian cattle herd is expected to ease by less than 1 per cent to 28.6 million head by June 30, 2024, according to Meat and Livestock Australia’s) latest cattle industry Projections.

Female retention remains above long-term averages, particularly within northern production systems, illustrating that the herd has entered a maintenance phase as elevated turnoff has been driven by high supply rather than producer intention to destock.

MLA manager of marketing Stephen Bignell said female retention remaining above average was an element which is contributing to the Northern Australian cattle herd staying in a growth phase.

“Following an above average wet season across much of the north of the country, the cattle herd is expected to grow further, especially as consistent rainfall events brought on by cyclones and low-pressure weather systems continue throughout the summer,” Mr Bignell said.

“For the southern herd, we expect it to constrict further into 2024 as it reaches maturity.

“This leads to increased turnoff while the cattle cycle enters a herd maintenance phase.

“This dynamic is influenced by the 2023 New South Wales female slaughter rate averaging 48 per cent, above the long-term benchmark of 47 per cent.”

A focus on productivity and genetics from Australian cattle producers during the 2020-22 rebuild has resulted in a resilient breeding herd.

“This means that the herd reaction to higher turnoff rates will be less severe than in previous years,” Mr Bignell said.

“We expect solid numbers of young cattle in the coming seasons both through the northern and southern systems.”

MLA also projects a lift in the slaughter rate which will drive production close to record levels in 2025.

However, labour availability remains a concern for processors, especially as the number of processor-ready cattle increases.

Carcase weights will fall during these high production years, through will remain well above long-term averages, thanks to the investments in genetic profile, and consistent improvements to Australia’s feedlot sector.