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Numbers on feed remain strong despite margin squeeze

Cattle on feed for the January to March 2021 quarter remained over the million head mark, despite decreasing 43,271 head from December to 1,005,035 head, according to the latest results of the Australian Lot Feeders’ Association (ALFA) and Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) survey.

Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia all recorded reductions in cattle numbers on feed. Queensland decreased by 46,516 head, or 7.9% to 542,176 head, New South Wales decreased by 2,324 head, or 0.7% to 311,957 head and South Australia decreased by 5,690 head, or 13.5% to 36,526 head.

Western Australia increased by 10,480, or 22.6%, to 56,782 head and Victoria increased by 778 head, or 1.4%, to 57,594 head.

ALFA President, Bryce Camm, said the decline suggests the pressure on feedlot margins driven by herd rebuilding activities and sticky commodity prices are having an impact.

“On the input side, ferociously strong competition for feeder cattle lifted the national feeder steer indicator up 7% on the previous quarter and 27% up year-on-year levels, reaching a 446¢/kg live weight (lwt) average.”

“Commodity prices remained sticky with wheat ex-Darling Downs prices holding firm, up 1% from the previous quarter to average $305/tonne. Barley averaged $272/tonne and was up 4% on the previous quarter,” Mr Camm said.

“There was some relief on the sell side, with the Queensland 100-day grain fed steer over-the-hook (OTH) indicator reaching a record quarterly average of 677¢/kg carcase weight (cwt).”

“The overall pressure on feedlot margins is reflected in national feedlot utilisation which declined to 69% for the March quarter, well below the 5-year March quarter average of 80%”.

“Despite the current challenges, confidence in the long-term outlook remains high with national feedlot capacity increasing to a record level 1,450,482 head this quarter.”

“With cattle numbers on feed remaining over the million head mark, it continues to demonstrate the importance of grain fed beef production to the wider red meat supply chain’s ability to deliver consistent quality and quantity beef to market,” Mr Camm said.

Steve Bignell, MLA Market Information Manager, said that as the national herd rebuild gains momentum grain-fed cattle are making up an increasing proportion of turn-off and beef production. “The grain-fed sector has been critical in underpinning continued supply of Australian beef during a period where producers are retaining more cattle,” he said.


Bryce Camm

President – ALFA

(02) 9290 3700

Josh McIntosh

Media Manager – MLA

(02) 9463 9198

Q1 statistics:



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