Beef kills retreat as short Easter weeks take effect

Jon Condon, 03/04/2013


The heat has gone out of the Eastern states weekly kills – temporarily, at least – as the Easter holiday effect impacted heavily on processor throughput last week, and again in the current seven-day cycle.

All five Eastern states took a big breather in processing numbers last week, with four-day rosters in all domestic and export plants across the country.

The result was a seven-day kill to Friday, reported by the National Livestock Reporting Service, of 119,197 head. That represents a 23pc fall from the previous all-time record-breaking seven-day tally of 155,286 head, which was the biggest kill ever recorded by NLRS.

While last week’s kill represents a huge step-back from the two weeks previous, it should be kept in some context, as it was still 14.5pc, or 15,000 head, higher than the equivalent first ‘Easter week’ last year.

All states recorded big declines in kills in the week ended Friday, the Eastern States kill summary showed:

  • Queensland was back 24pc to 63,111 head, from the previous week’s all-time record of 82,866 head. Significantly, though, last week’s kill was still 1pc higher than this same week last year, which included a full five-day kill roster
  • NSW fell 25pc last week to 27,373 head
  • Victoria eased by 21pc to 18,491 head
  • South Australia was back 23pc to 6631 head, and
  • Tasmania killed 16pc fewer cattle for the week, at 3591 head.

As highlighted in this Beef Central report published late last week, wholesale markets are yet to show serious evidence of over-supply, but a return to weekly Eastern States kills anywhere near 150,000 head in coming weeks will inevitably put huge pressure on the domestic wholesale supply network, trade contacts say.

“If Queensland keeps banging out 80,000-plus weekly kills heading into May, it might be a different story,” a large wholesaler contact said yesterday.  

While the two short Easter killing weeks may have provided a pressure valve for over-loaded wholesale markets, they will do nothing to relieve the enormous cattle supply pressure caused by the desperately dry conditions across large parts of northern and western Queensland, the eastern half of the NT, and western districts of NSW and Victoria.

There were some solid rainfall registrations recorded across Eastern Australia over the Easter period, but once again, the rain impact was seen in areas further east that have already received above average rain earlier in the summer. Little useful rain was recorded in those areas that desperately need it, with the exception of the Katherine region in the NT.

It won’t be until we clear the current short-week kill cycles that a truer reflection of cattle pricing and rates of kill again emerges.

With the possible exception of South Australia, which is likely to continue to receive significant numbers of slaughter cattle out of the dry bottom half of the NT, kills in southern states may now be past their seasonal highs, several processors told Beef Central yesterday.

That could see some southern processors again start to source killable stock from further north, as local supply starts to decline. In simple terms, that means Victorian processors sourcing more cattle out of NSW, and NSW processors dipping more into Queensland.

Some large Queensland export processors yesterday said kill roster slots are still heavily booked out into mid-May, at least.

“Numbers coming forward are showing no sign of abating at this time,” one large multi-site processor said.

Southeast Queensland public grid prices quoted to Beef Central yesterday were unchanged to 10c/kg dead weight softer on this time last week.

The top of the SEQ cow grid yesterday sat at around 275c-280c/kg, four-tooth grassfed ox around 300-305c, and milk-tooth heavy steer around 310c-315c. Best cows have now declined a full 35-40c/kg dressed weight since mid to late February, on southeast Queensland grids, in reflection of the conditions.


‘Establish a sale plan, and stick to it’

For northern and western producers impacted by current desperately dry conditions, one major processor’s livestock manager suggested it was not a time to be ‘disorganised’ in marketing of either grass or grainfed cattle.

“Killing space is at a premium, there’s no doubt about it,” he said.

“Producers impacted by the dry really need to be planning carefully what they are going to do, and stick to it. There is no use ringing up today, and asking for a kill next week, because it isn’t going to happen, in most cases.”

“There’s a lot of slots booked well-out, heading into May, so people need to think about their turnoff and when they want to move, and make sure space is available. Create a plan and stick to it, is my recommendation: it’s not a time to be disorganised in any way,” the processor contact said.

Saleyards numbers late last week and early this week are mostly well back on what was seen earlier, partly in response to the short-week killing space, but also a reflection of the big price slides seen in some categories last week. Some northern sales including Charters Towers took a pounding last week, with light cows changing hands for give-away prices in the absence of any real buyer support.     

The majority of the eastern states daily cattle indicators declined last week, as the bulk of the cattle offered through physical markets were plain and unfinished.

While it gained some ground late last week on earlier losses, the Eastern Young Cattle Indicator opened the week yesterday at 324.25¢/kg, down from a recent high of 345c on March 11.

Compared to prices this time last year, some categories are now back as much as 70¢/kg liveweight.




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