Cattle in a field with Nutrien Ag Solutions agent looking after them.

Spring has arrived, but it hasn’t brought with it any relief for cattle prices. In fact, the last week of winter has brought with it a drop in prices pretty much right across the board, as slaughter continues to track higher than the five-year average.

The Eastern Young Cattle Indicator (EYCI) felt the most downward pressure, as national cattle yardings for August finished as the second-highest monthly volume for the year, and more than 90,000 head more than the same month in 2022. The feeder indicator, however, wasn’t far behind it.

The EYCI closed at 480c/kg, losing nearly 30c/kg for the week, and hitting its lowest weekly average point since mid-2019. It is also the first time the end-of-week price has sat below 500c/kg since the opening week of 2020. It now sits at 54% lower than the same week last year, and 38% below the five-year average. To put this another way returns for EYCI cattle are now more than $5/kg less than they were this time last year.

Feeder steers lost about 23c/kg for the week, and nearly 45c/kg for the month, to sit at 276c/kg. Dalby, QLD, had the highest feeder throughput for the week at 15% and traded at above 280c/kg, followed by Wagga Wagga and Dubbo, NSW, both of which were also higher than the average indicator price. Dragging it back down were the other four main QLD yards, all of which were below the average price. That said, Argus Meat and Livestock have the northern feeder cattle price at 312c/kg, down 17c/kg for the week but still above the national price. Much like producers, lotfeeders are cautious that heavy-weight feeder types might become harder to get if the spring rainfall is sparse, and feeding for longer isn’t an option due to high grain prices.

The cow price held firm this week, and at 198c/kg is tracking above June levels. Heavy steers lost 14c/kg and at 256c/kg are much like the EYCI in terms of the last times we saw the price drop to current lows. Throughput numbers were up for both restocker yearling heifers and steers this week, but prices were down, with this category losing the most ground for the month, both sexes being about 50c/kg cheaper than they were four weeks ago.

National Livestock Reporting Service slaughter for the week ending Sunday climbed by about 5,000 head compared to the week prior, which was 25% higher than the same week last year. The weekly slaughter average for the year-to-date in 2023 is sitting at roughly 16,000 head higher than in 2022, but still about 12,000 head below the five-year average. National yardings climbed week-on-week, to just above 49,000 head, 8,000 head above the average for the year. 

Next week

There’s limited upside expected in the coming weeks for the cattle market, as producers are likely to continue to turn off, unwillingly to both have too many mouths to feed if the dry spring eventuates, and to risk prices falling further which could be the case if the rainfall stops. If there is a decent widespread spring downpour, it will support the market in some way, but fortunes will still be the way of the processors at least in the short term. 

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Data sources: MLA, Mecardo

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