Lamb slaughter no slouch as records fall

Sheep transport vehicle

We’ve nearly got another quarter of 2024 under our belt, but the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) figures for livestock production for January to March were released recently, and they are worth a look to see just how things have been tracking in sheep and lamb. As was expected from weekly slaughter reports, lambs hit record territory in the first quarter of the year, and sheep jumped by nearly 11% from the previous quarter.

Australia slaughtered 6.93 million lambs in the first three months of this year, which was the highest lamb kill on record. It was 24% above the five-year-average for the period and a jump of 20% on the same quarter in 2023. We can see from Figure 1 that if lamb slaughter remains on its usual trend of increasing each quarter through to the end of the year, we will be off the current chart come the end of June. If we look quickly at the state-by-state breakdown, it was NSW which recorded the biggest increase from the previous quarter, up 15%, while WA was up nearly 22% year-on-year with its second highest lamb slaughter on record.

Production followed suit, assisted by increased carcass weights, and was also a record, with 167,263 tonnes of lamb turned out, which was nearly 50% more year-on-year. Lamb weights lifted 5% from the previous quarter to reach the five-year-average of 24kg. Sheep carcass weights, however, went 5% in the other direction, which was why mutton production only lifted a touch more than 5%, despite sheep slaughter being up by more than 10% from the previous quarter.

This brought the first quarter mutton kill to 2.78 million head, up 14% year-on-year and 35% above the five-year-average. Collectively, sheep and lamb slaughter rose 21% year-on-year, and was 31% above the five-year figure. The gross value of sheep and lambs also had an impressive increase, up more than 40% from the previous quarter to $1.25 billion, its strongest return since the June 2022 quarter.

What does it mean?

If we look at the MLA’s lamb slaughter projections for this year of 26.1 million head, and back of the envelope divide that into four quarters, then lamb slaughter would actually have to decrease going forward – and while held over stock might have boosted first-quarter numbers, it’s unlikely that spring figures won’t boost the last two quarters of the year higher than the first. Which means a potential revision higher for lamb numbers.

Also interesting to note is the rise in lamb production compared to lamb exports for the first quarter, with production up 48% year-on-year, and exports only rising 32% for the same period.

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Key Points

  • Record high lamb slaughter for first quarter of 2024 at 6.93 million head.
  • Lamb carcass weights lift back to five-year-average levels of 24kg.
  • Mutton slaughter also rose back to 2019 levels, but carcass weights dropped by 5%.

Click on figure to expand

Click on figure to expand

Data sources: ABS, MLA, Mecardo

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