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Australia’s beef slaughter is expected to dip next year with the smallest cattle herd in a quarter of a century as farmers focus on rebuilding stock numbers.

Released on Monday, Rabobank’s Global Animal Protein Outlook 2021 predicts beef production will be restricted and prices will remain strong.

Rabobank senior animal protein analyst Angus Gidley-Baird believes improved pastoral conditions will increase beef weights, leading to small production and export increases in 2020.

“Continued high female slaughter rates in 2020 and high livestock prices suggests a focus by producers on trading cattle rather than retaining them for breeding,” he said.

“We expect herd rebuilding activities to extend into 2021.”

Cattle prices are set to benefit from ongoing competition from producers, feedlotters and processors but prices are tipped to ease as stock numbers build.

Lamb slaughter is expected to increase in 2021 despite the nation’s smallest flock in 75 years.

“Better breeding conditions and an increased focus on lamb production will drive increased lamb slaughter,” Mr Gidley-Baird said.

“While carcass weights are expected to remain steady, production and, in turn, exports should grow.”

Domestic demand for sheep and flock rebuilding is forecast to remain firm, with export demand key to lamb pricing.

Mr Gidley-Baird said prices would be lower next year than this but still remain good amid softer economic conditions.

The report also found China’s initial recovery from African swine fever would emerge as the biggest driver of global growth in animal proteins next year.