Beef kill lifts as seasonal closure looms

Jon Condon, 13/11/2012


Eastern States beef kills showed a predictable 1pc increase in throughput last week, as widespread but moderate rain failed to curb cattle supply and late second-round musters flushed-out cull cows and other disposables before the onset of the northern wet.

The National Livestock Reporting Service’s Eastern States slaughter report showed a tally of 139,522 head for the week ended Friday, about 1000 up on the previous cycle.     

The public holiday influence was still in evidence last week, as kills dropped substantially in Victoria (-14pc, Melbourne Cup Day Tuesday holiday) and Tasmania (-17pc, Recreation Day on Monday), having an effect on national throughput.

The even bigger impact on kills seen two weeks ago was due to Butcher’s Picnic holidays celebrated at some of the nation’s biggest abattoirs in Southeast Queensland, including Dinmore and Oakey.  

The return to full shifts in Queensland last week translated into an 8pc rise in numbers, to 75,595 head. That figure was also 6pc higher than the same week last year, when the largest processing state was still coming out of a prolonged wet spell.

Worth noting was a significant rise in female kill last week to 32pc of Queensland’s total – possibly the highest female kill proportion seen in at least six months.

One processor put that down to late second-round musters cleaning-out surplus females before the onset of rain. The trend was far from universal across Queensland, however, with one large exporter handling just 205 females out of their weekly tally of 4710.

Feedback from larger processors is that they are ‘comfortably secure’ for slaughter cattle at present, suggesting current kill numbers should extend into early December, barring rain influence. What happens after that is anybody’s guess, but historically, there has been some good money around for cattle later in December as numbers become scarce.

One point to watch as the processing industry nears its seasonal close is the tendency for cattle prices to get ‘artificially inflated’ over the final few weeks due to shortage of numbers. This sometimes causes a breakdown in price signals when the industry rolls into the new season in January. The slaughter market can at such times get confused, as producers hold the expectation that they should get ‘the same money as what was offered before the Christmas break’, while processors seek a level that better reflects the new season cattle supply. It sometimes takes a few weeks for true market forces to again establish themselves, as a result.

Certainly last week’s rain across areas of Queensland, NSW and Victoria had little impact on slaughter cattle flow. Some processors reported a few withdrawals – just five decks, in the case of one large SEQ plant – but the slots were quickly filled by other cattle – in some cases substitutions from within the same supply source.

Last week’s widespread rain did come as welcome relief to beef producers across Eastern Australia, boosting producer confidence and markets alike. Falls of up to 50mm were recorded in NSW and Victoria, while southern and northern WA recorded up to 25mm.

The NT also registered scattered falls, with storms of up to 50mm in the centre, while SA and Queensland experienced patchy showers around 15-20mm in some areas.

“We’re seeing plenty of cattle at present, from Victoria right through to Central Queensland,” one large multi-site processor said yesterday. “Last week’s rain did not affect us one little bit.”

As a result, some Queensland processors are using saleyards sourcing selectively at present, missing some sales altogether as direct consignment stock continue to dominate kill rosters.


Channel Country supply holding-on well

One common processor observation this week has been the continued, late surge in quality grassfed slaughter cattle coming out of the far western Channel Country.

Big consignments of 600-700 bullocks are still arriving out of the far west. One southeast Queensland processor had an arrival intake of 170 decks last weekend alone, and forward bookings from the Channel Country region are solid, right out to the end of November, at least.

One big consignment of 600-head from just over the South Australian border killed last week averaged 377kg dressed weight, and were almost all four teeth and less, and including a ‘heap’ of 0-2 tooth cattle. Another 36 decks unloaded yesterday from a bullock depot in the same region were likely to weigh and mouth much the same, Beef Central’s contact said.

“You’d swear they just came off oats out at Meandarra or somewhere,” was the livestock team member’s comment.

All three major export processors operating in southeast Queensland have left grids unchanged over the past seven days.  The currency value might start bearing some weight on grid-price setting decisions in coming weeks, however, as the A$ this morning snuck back up well into the US104s, its highest level since September.

In other states last week, NSW kills took a step back in processing activity, declining 2pc to 33,748 head, while Victoria dropped 14pc to 18,523, for reasons explained earlier. South Australia’s kill reached 8255 head, +3pc from a week earlier, while Tasmania was -17pc at 3401 head.

Beyond this week, there remains only five killing weeks before the Christmas-New Year processing break.

Barring earlier rain disruptions, most large Queensland processors spoken to this week appear to be targeting the final kill for the year on Thursday, December 20, and final boning shift on Friday, December 21. Some plants may close a week before that. Depending on circumstances, some plan to return to work on Monday, January 14.

There will be some exceptions, however. Teys Australia’s Biloela plant will follow its normal course, finishing its season much earlier (December 6), but also starting earlier in the New Year.


October kill summary

Looking back at last month’s Eastern States kill performance, MLA’s National Livestock Reporting Service said weekly slaughter during the month declined 2pc year-on-year. The lower average for the month was driven by fewer numbers processed in NSW and Qld – back 2pc and 3pc respectively -although the decline was largely due to a lower than expected total during the first week of the month.

A reduced volume of male cattle slaughtered was a major reason behind the Qld decline, with 2pc less killed in comparison to the corresponding period last year. NSW slaughter levels for October returned to normal following the sharp increase in September, although the first week of the month was lower due to a shorter working week. Despite larger yardings at NSW cattle selling centres for the month of October, total slaughter edged lower, with reports of fewer cattle being booked direct-to-works.

Victorian slaughter throughput held firm in comparison to October last year. A decline in throughput at physical markets mid-month saw a slight dip in slaughter levels, however numbers recovered by the end of the month.


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