IT hasn’t taken long for the new season Eastern States beef kill to slip straight back into the cycle of extreme high rates of slaughter seen during the second half of 2013.
The National Livestock Reporting Service’s Eastern States Slaughter report for the seven days ended Friday shows the total at 161,712 head processed for the week.
That’s easily the highest January weekly beef kill on record, and is exceeded only by a single week in December last year, when the tally went close to 162,000.
It clearly shows that the industry’s normal down-time associated with the Christmas/January period is now long-gone, with many plants (where they can be accommodated) now resuming double shifts, and Saturday kills, where workplace agreements accommodate it.
As can be seen in Beef Central’s home page “industry dashboard” weekly kill graph, last year the trend in the Eastern States slaughter was to gradually gather momentum as the year unfolded. This year, however, it has opened with a bang.
The big kill number last week is due to a combination of unusually high kills for Queensland for this time of year, combined with near record kills in the second and third largest processing states, NSW and Victoria.
Queensland’s kill last week reached 80,451 head, which while not quite at the extreme record highs seen late last year, is easily the state’s highest kill ever recorded in January. Last week’s kill was 40pc higher than the corresponding week last year.
NSW last week also continued its recent high throughput, recording a kill of 38,596 head, 12pc higher than this week a year ago, while Victoria was also close to last year’s biggest kills, reaching 29,028 head, 30pc higher than year-earlier figures.
South Australia and Tasmania also registered big kills last week, with SA logging 8807 head (+7pc on year-earlier activity) and Tassie 4830 (+4pc).
Major processors spoken to yesterday suggested that Monday’s Australia Day holiday probably pushed some plants to kill as many cattle as possible the week before, to try to compensate for the lost day this week.
Having said that, some plants, notably Teys Australia’s, did a kill and bone shift on the Monday holiday. Weekend shifts at some plants now look like becoming commonplace, at least until there is some widespread rain across eastern Australia.
Perhaps the biggest motivator for last week’s unexpectedly large kill, however, was the extreme large saleyard yardings recorded the week before. With such large cattle numbers being pushed at processors in mid-January, a big jump in throughput was always on the cards last week.
What’s happened since then, though, has been a substantial reduction in saleyards numbers in Queensland and central/northern NSW selling centres, as vendors reacted to the alarming price plunges seen earlier. Roma store sale yesterday, for example, fell by 50pc to just 3400 head, with prices improved a little, accordingly, as supply better matched demand. The effect was less evident in southern centres, however, with Carcoar yarding 3700 yesterday, and Wodonga 2100, while Naracoorte was unchanged.
Processors say that many of those cattle that have been pulled out of the saleyards channel have now simply been diverted into direct consignment, to escape some of the recent physical market volatility.
Further north, another factor in recent saleyards reductions is producers keeping an “eye on the sky”, with a potential cyclone brewing in the Coral Sea east of Cairns.
A number of processors told Beef Central yesterday that they had seen increased direct consignment inquiry since yards numbers started to decline.
Large Queensland processors are now taking solid space bookings well into March, with February now heavily covered – either with priced cattle or stock simply booked for a slot. One large southern Queensland export shed is booked solid out to February 17 on price, offering only slots after that date.
Forward grainfed contracts are still evident in some considerable numbers, which are further restricting available kill space on grassfed cattle at some Queensland plants.
Queensland meatworks grid prices are basically unchanged this week, after several large competitors dropped their grassfed rates 10c/kg carcase weight last week, in the face of the wall of cattle coming forward. MSA and grainfed prices are either unchanged, or back 5c/kg this week.
Grid prices obtained by Beef Central from major processors yesterday included 330-345c/kg for 0-2 tooth heavy grassfed steer, 320-340c/kg for 4-tooth, and best cows anywhere from 280c-310c/kg. In grainfeds, we found 100-day YG steer at 365c, and 70-day MSA steer at 350c, for boning groups 1-8.
A large northern NSW single-site processor has dropped prices 10c/kg in the past ten days, having MSA grassfed steer, HGP-free at 335c/kg for boning groups 1-6, 5c more for Angus; and best full-mouth cows 280c.