A long, dry winter, expensive feed, and scant grass on the ground has farmers destocking their paddocks and sending more and more animals to the abattoir, with the sheep slaughter rate currently at a ten-year peak.
Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics on Tuesday showed there was a 4.2 per cent monthly rise in sheep slaughters during August, with the 12-month total now 312,400 animals, or 46.1 per cent, higher than the same period to August 2017.
The rolling east coast dry means many farmers have been forced to ship large numbers of sheep and cattle to market each week as they struggle to carry their livestock through severe drought.
And, despite a few storms and scattered falls over the past week, Meat and Livestock Australia’s markets intelligence manager Scott Tolmie said expect poor conditions to continue and slaughter rates to remain high.
‘We’re seeing a bit of rainfall at the moment, but long-term weather forecasts aren’t painting a good picture,’ he said.
‘The cattle numbers will be reasonably elevated until we get a break, and we expect sheep to come off the boil eventually.
‘We are starting to forecast flock and herd sizes to contract, but that really depends on how much feed costs and how much the dry sticks around.’
The number of cattle slaughtered in abattoirs or by smaller butchers over the month of August increased by 7,500 head, or 1.1 per cent, with about 65,800 or 10.7 per cent, more cattle now slaughtered than the same time last year.
Lamb slaughters, however, continued to decrease for the month, down 2.8 per cent from July in trend terms, the largest August fall since trend estimates were introduced in 1979.
‘There’s been a big delay in new season lambs coming through due to the conditions,’ Mr Tolmie said.
‘And processors are switching between sheep and lambs to keep their numbers up.’
Pig slaughter rates remained steady for the month but was still up 5,400 animals, or 1.2 per cent for the year.