Calculating herd size is an ‘inexact science’

Jon Condon, 17/12/2014

IN compiling information for this morning’s separate article, “2015 outlook: What lies ahead for herd size, cattle slaughter, price?” we drifted onto the topic of how the national herd size and related information is calculated.

Behind the scenes, Meat & Livestock Australia’s Central Marketing & Industry Insights division is beginning the process of data collection to present MLA’s 2015 annual industry projections around mid-January next year. But it’s not an easy or straightforward task, it appears.

In the US, twice-yearly national herd estimates are compiled by the well-resourced and financed USDA. And the nation’s heavy reliance on feedlots for steer and heifer slaughter, provides further hard data which makes it a relatively straightforward task to establish US national herd trends.

Here, the process is a much more inexact science. MLA’s assessments of herd composition and other factors in Australia are based on several sources:

  • Information generated by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, based on a five-yearly census, and ‘sample’ surveys carried out in the intervening years in between. The sampling methodology is not known, but anecdotally, well-informed stakeholders are often critical of the ABS conclusions, based on grassroots knowledge. The ABS data has a considerable lag factor. The preliminary figure for herd size for June 30, 2014, for example, only came out a couple of weeks ago, and the official figure will not be released until early next year.
  • ABS also produces monthly slaughter statistics for each state, which provide further guidance as to how trends are tracking, year-on-year. Unfortunately this data also carries a six-week lag. An important part of the monthly kill stats is the female component of the kill, of course.
  • Using that information as a basis, MLA then goes into the market and communicates extensively with processors, large pastoral companies, live exporters and others to try to refine its own annual herd size and slaughter forecasts, due for release as the annual Industry Projections in January. This is based on anecdotal evidence of local pasture conditions, conception rates, rates of female turnoff and other factors. That process is happening now.

MLA advised Beef Central that from early next year, it plans to examine herd size and other industry trends more frequently than it has in the past, aiming to produce quarterly reports that better capture seasonal and other patterns.




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