Live sheep export numbers on the rise


Public consultations were completed this week by the independent panel created to advise the federal government on the phase-out of live sheep exports, and they now have three months to compile their report. For those same three months, no live sheep will be exported out of Australia to the Middle East, as the northern hemisphere summer moratorium kicks in, as it has for the past five years. Despite the uncertainty over the industry, live sheep numbers have been on the rise this year.

Live sheep export figures for the year-to-May show numbers have grown 42% year-on-year. When we last looked at live export numbers, the trade had started strong in January, before dipping in February, with 40% less sheep exported for that month year-on-year. Each month since has exported significantly higher numbers, however, with March up 449% year-on-year, and May up 111%. 

Looking at the first five months of 2023 together; 400,385 sheep have headed offshore, with 115, 410 head exported in May alone. In comparison, just shy of 503,000 sheep were exported in the entire 2022 calendar year (keeping in mind there are only three months of open trade left for 2023).


Now while trade is tracking above 2021 and 2022 levels, numbers are still tracking below 2020, making them the third lowest on record since the turn of the century. In terms of markets, Qatar, which just five years ago was taking over half a million sheep from Australia alone, has not imported any Australian sheep this year. Kuwait has stepped in as a major partner, taking well over half of all sheep that were live exported from Australia in 2022, and 40% of this year’s trade, this is despite numbers to Kuwait being back 10% year-on-year for the January-May period. Destinations that have been on the increase this year are Oman, up 140%, and Israel, up 139%, both being markets that have been of significant size in the past.


More than 99% of all sheep exported from Australia left from WA ports last year, and while numbers are up slightly out of the east coast this year, Fremantle still makes up a vast majority of the trade.  It is interesting to note that the eastern state transfers of sheep out of Western Australia have been on the rise again this year. While still a long way from the extreme highs of 2020 and 2021, they have been above year-ago levels since October 2022 through April this year (the latest data available). From January to April, more sheep were transferred interstate from WA than overseas.

What does it mean?

Just last week we touched on the growing mutton supply as the Australian flock rebuilds and confidence in particular markets waiver. This will only be exacerbated if the forecast dry spring eventuates. 

WA has been increasing their interstate market trade this year, and the simultaneous increase in live export numbers indicates there is plenty of supply in the West. 

Unfortunately, there is little indication so far that Australia has the capacity to absorb those numbers without overwhelming supply chains if the live export ban is implemented, meaning the industry still has significant adjusting to do.

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Key Points

  • Live sheep export numbers are up 42% year-on-year for the first five months of 2023.
  • Numbers are still tracking at their third lowest number since at least 2000 and have yet to reach 2020 levels.
  • Interstate transfers once again overtake overseas exports of sheep out of WA.

Click on figure to expand

Click on figure to expand

Data sources: Meat and Livestock Australia,  Mecardo

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