FSR on the rise as herd rebuild eventuates

Nutrien Ag Solutions cattle farm.

Australia’s cattle herd is still rebuilding according to latest Australian Bureau Statistics data released last week, but female slaughter is on the rise. While there is a slight lag in the reporting, with the most recent figures for the June quarter, it still gives us a good indication of how the herd is progressing. Overall slaughter was also up compared to the previous quarter (read more about that here), and with these two numbers on the up we are likely getting close to a shift in the cycle.

The FSR increased 3% in the June quarter. It is the first time this figure has lifted quarter-on-quarter since June 2021, however it still sits well below year-ago levels. Female cattle made up 44% of the total slaughter from April to June this year, compared to 41% from January to March. The FSR remains historically low, however, down from 48% in the 2021 June quarter, and 56% in the June 2020 quarter. The June quarter FSR was 15% below the five-year average of 52.3%.

Overall slaughter for the quarter was 3% lower year-on-year, and down 21% on the five-year average, but climbed 11% on the previous quarter. In terms of total slaughter and FSR, the March quarter stands out as a bottoming out of throughput, with the lowest slaughter figure in at least 15 years, and the female kill of 41% the lowest its’ been since the December quarter of 2011.

If we look at it state by state, it is perhaps a tale of buying in verses breeding up. Despite questions about whether the wet season was sufficient to support continued growth, Queensland producers seemingly kept up their retention rates last quarter, with the state’s FSR at 35%, down from 39% in the same quarter the previous year, and well below the 47% five-year-average.

Meanwhile Victoria generally hosts the highest FSR due to its relatively large dairy herd, and this quarter was no different, when it recorded 63%. Victoria remained above their five-year-average FSR for the first three quarters of 2021, only dropping 1.6% below it in the three months to December. It has remained close to the average for the first two quarters of this year as well, less than 1% lower in March and less than 2% lower in June. It could be that Victoria has also returned to more ‘normal’ herd numbers quicker than the rest of the country due to the condensed nature of their grazing.

What does it mean?

Prolonged good seasonal conditions in many areas and historically strong returns have kept female retention strong and cattle numbers on the rise, and coupled with supply chain hurdles has restrained slaughter – but the next quarter could be a different story. If we look back to the last time our young cattle market broke records and the green feed was plentiful (2016/17), the FSR sat below 48% (close enough to the rebuild marker) for seven quarters, or 21 months. We’ve now been at that level this time around for the same period of time.

The main difference this time around is the season continues to go with producers, and the outlook for spring is stellar. This could sway retention this coming quarter – but can’t last forever.   

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Key Points

  • Female slaughter rate of 44% is up from last quarter, but still below the herd rebuild threshold (usually considered 47%)
  • Victorian female kill on par with five year average, while Queensland is lagging well behind.
  • Herd and slaughter cycle now likely to be on the increase after hitting its low in the first three months of the year.

Click on figure to expand

Click on figure to expand

Data sources: ABS, MLA, Mecardo

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