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19 February, 2021

Over one million cattle on feed for third year running

The number of cattle on feed nationally as at 31 December 2020 was 1,048,307 head, an increase of 37,985 from September.

Key points:

  • Grainfed cattle numbers have now remained above 1 million head for three years
  • There were 1,048,307 cattle on feed in Australia as at 31 December 2020
  • Feedlot capacity and utilisation remained stable from the last quarter.

MLA and the Australian Lot Feeders’ Association (ALFA) released the results of their December 2020 lot feeder survey today. The survey results show that the number of cattle on feed and national utilisation both increased slightly for the quarter, while national feedlot capacity marginally eased.

The number of cattle on feed nationally as at 31 December 2020 was 1,048,307 head, an increase of 37,985 from September. Feedlot numbers grew in every state except Queensland. In WA and Victoria, cattle on feed numbers increased by over 20%, up 8,364 and 9,853 to 46,302 and 56,816 head, respectively. Grainfed cattle experienced smaller rises in SA and NSW, with cattle on feed up 11% and 6%, respectively. In contrast to all other states, the number of cattle on feed in Queensland fell during the December quarter, down 0.5% to 588,692 head.

National utilisation for the quarter was up slightly, from 70% to 73%, reflecting the increase in cattle on feed. Capacity for the quarter remained at the historically high level of 1.4 million head.

Cattle on feed numbers typically increase in the southern states across summer, as pasture availability is limited in this time. However, the result of the survey demonstrates that the jump of cattle on feed for December 2020 was not as large as in previous December quarters. This was largely due to the improved seasonal conditions throughout 2020 for southern states and heavy summer rains experienced in Queensland in December.

Interestingly, the increase of cattle on feed in December 2020 coincided with high feeder steer prices. However, these high feeder prices were offset by high grainfed over-the-hooks (OTH) prices and low feed costs.

From an export perspective, grainfed beef exports grew in the quarter despite the Australian dollar appreciating against the local currencies of all key export markets. Grainfed beef exports were up 21% for the quarter to 82,783 tonnes shipped weight (swt), with Japan remaining the largest destination for grainfed beef.

The survey results and export data reinforce that the grainfed sector is an important component of the Australian beef sector, and confidence in lot feeding is high.

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