Australian lot feeders report surge in cattle numbers and export growth

The Australian Lot Feeders Association (ALFA) and Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) are set to release their lot feeding brief for Q4 of 2023 next week. An initial analysis of the survey data indicates an increase in the number of cattle on feed during the December quarter, rising by 13% year-on-year to reach a record high of 1,294,531 head.

Breaking it down state by state, NSW, SA and WA rose by 7.3%, 14.7% and 92.6% respectively, in the number of cattle on feed. Meanwhile, Queensland and Victoria experienced drops of 3.1%, and 2.2% over the same period, reflecting positive shifts in market conditions in most states. It is important to note that the increase in WA can be attributed to the seasonal nature of the western lot feeding sector, which typically peaks during the last and first quarters of the year.

In terms of national feedlot capacity, there was a modest increase of 1.1% to 1.59 million head, coupled with a 1% rise to utilisation rates to 81.2%. This marks the fifth consecutive increase in feedlot capacity, leading the industry to once again achieve record capacity in Q4 2023.

Grainfed beef exports experienced positive growth in 2023, particularly in the second half of the year, driven by strong demand from China and a reduction in stored meat in Japan. This resulted in an 18% year-on-year lift to exports.

Survey results for Q4 show that the number of cattle on feed in feedlots accommodating less than 10,000 head increased 21% year-on-year to 439,372. This indicates a trend of smaller feedlots capitalising on the shifting market conditions, including lower cattle costs and higher supply.

Feedlot buyers enjoyed sustained availability of feeder cattle throughout 2023, with annual throughput up by 9%. This supply increase was most notable through NSW and WA, where annual feeder throughput lifted 32% and 21% respectively.