Feedlot numbers hit record 1.239 million head

Beef Central, 13/02/2020

150-day grainfed Angus steers close to close out at NH Foods Whyalla feedlot near Texas.

CATTLE numbers on feed across Australia have hit a record high according to the December quarterly feedlot industry survey released this morning.

The survey showed there were 1,239,563 head of cattle on feed in the December quarter, a rise of more than 92,000 head on the previous record set in the April-June quarter last year, and up 10.7pc on the previous September quarter.

Last year’s drought conditions across eastern Australia saw many larger commercial feedlots pushed to their operating capacity, while many smaller opportunity yards less than 1000 head capacity were re-activated and operating at previously unseen levels. Feedlot utilisation levels reached 90pc in the December quarter – considered to be close to effective operating capacity, when pen maintenance, cleaning and repairs are taken into account.

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The growing momentum in grainfed branded beef programs also served to underpin the high level of feeding activity last year.

The quarterly survey conducted by the latest Australian Lot Feeders Association and Meat & Livestock Australia showed increased numbers on feed in all states, with Queensland (up 60,000 head on the previous quarter), NSW (up 28,000 head) and Western Australia (up 29,000 head) showing the largest gains.

South Australia and Victoria experienced more modest increases, with South Australia increasing by 3779 head or 8.9pc to 46,367 head, while Victoria increased marginally to 67,255 head on feed.

Smaller opportunity-scale yards played an increasingly important role in meeting demand late last year, with yards 0-500 head and 500-1000 head lifting by 83,000 head on the same period a year earlier.

Industry capacity increases have also underpinned the record feeding activity, with nationwide feeding capacity reaching 1.379 million head in December. All states except for Victoria showed increases in lotfeeding capacity last quarter.

Australian Lot Feeders Association president Bryce Camm said feedlot production continued to play an important role in managing seasonal variability and enabling the continued delivery of high-quality beef to global customers.

“Cattle on feed numbers have been above one million head during the past eight quarters, culminating with a historical all-time high exceeding 1.2 million at the end of 2019,” Mr Camm said.

“The feedlot industry continues to demonstrate the significant role it plays in helping supply chain business continuity in the face of persistent and widespread drought conditions,” he said.

“Feedlots play an essential role helping Australian exporters meet demand for high quality Australian beef whilst supporting 1800 jobs directly and a further 30,000 jobs indirectly in rural communities.”

MLA senior market analyst Adam Cheetham said African Swine Fever reshaped the global meat trade during 2019, with volumes diverted away from traditional markets to China to mitigate protein deficiencies caused by a reduction in domestic pork production.

Australian grainfed exports totalled 82,520 tonnes through the December quarter, an increase of 5pc from year-ago levels and 2pc higher than volumes in the September quarter, he said.

Within this, grainfed exports to China continued to climb, improving 61pc year-on-year to 23,989t, up 20 from the previous quarter.

However, exports to Japan eased 10pc from the same quarter last year to 33,565t, while grainfed exports to Korea fell 2pc year-on-year to 14,168t.

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