Drought dries up cattle slaughtering

By Hilary Ruthven.

Cattle slaughter numbers have reduced by 95,500 in five years from a ripple effect of persistent drought conditions within the industry.

According to Meat and Livestock Australia, last year Australians consumed on average 25.4kg of beef per person, maintaining the country as the sixth largest red-meat consumers in the world.

Queensland cattle farmers generated a healthy $11.3 billion to the Australian economy in 2016, making the state the most profitable.

Farm Animal Rescue president Brad King said that while the reduction of slaughtering over the past five years was significant, the meat production to the Australian market was still the same because the cattle slaughtered were bigger in mass.

Queensland cattle farmers generated a healthy $11.3 billion to the Australian economy in 2016, making the state the most profitable. Photo by Mark Jones, Flickr

“Any reduction in beef consumption by Australians is currently being offset by the increasing population, increases in portion size owing to larger carcasses, and live export, [so] there is a way to go before changing dietary habits have any impact on beef production,” he said.

But results from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) indicated that cattle slaughtering in Queensland had still decreased by 13 per cent over the past 10 years, and 14 per cent within the last five years.

Nolan Meats director Terry Nolan, who owns and runs a family operated abattoir in Gympie, said the profits had been affected by the decline in cattle coming through the slaughter yard.

Mr Nolan said that the decrease was due to billions of drought-inflicted deaths from cattle unable to reproduce fast enough to maintain the number of cows in the herd after the dry-season.

He said it would take a herd approximately five years to recover completely due to farmers selling billions of cattle and not leaving enough females to breed.

“When the cattle were in drought the farmers would sell them, so then the herd dropped to about 26 billion, and it hasn’t replenished yet,” he said.

“It was bad, the induced turnover shed six billion head out of the herd, and once you shed six billion out of a herd there is a smaller number of females to re-produce.”

The decrease within the cattle industry was not limited to Queensland, but was also Australia-wide, with a decrease of 12 per cent over the past 10 years, and a decrease of 14 per cent over the past five years.

In February, the Federal Member for Capricornia Michelle Landy addressed the Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce in The House of Representatives about maintaining the growth of the cattle industry.

She questioned the minister’s knowledge of the threats within the trade, and said she wanted an update on how the government would maintain Australia’s cattle industry.

Mr Joyce said the cattle industry’s growth was not in danger due to overseas deals made with live-export trade to Indonesia, with farmers pocketing up to $320 more a head.

He said that by increasing the weight of live-cattle exported to Indonesia to 450kg as well as increasing the age to four years it would create more available cattle to export overseas.

But statistics from the ABS reveal the Australian cattle industry had a loss of 7,100 head of cattle slaughtered in April compared to last year, with an actual decrease of 87,000 head in Queensland over the past 10 years.

Mr King said that even though the government was implementing solutions for the growth of the industry, cattle were not suitable for grazing on Northern Territory farms and were more acclimatised to cooler, wetter conditions making it unprofitable.

“The primary reason for the lower slaughter numbers has been the four-year-old drought in most of Queensland that has made beef slaughter, even with all of the government incentives, unprofitable,” he said.

“The beef industry is forever overly optimistic about rainfall expectations, which is why on-farm cattle deaths are such a significant factor on Australian farms.”

He said because overseas markets in Asia rapidly wanted Australian beef, the industry’s profits would not be dramatically affected, but instead the people who chose to live on an animal-free diet would.

“We can, however, expect that the growth in people choosing a diet free of animal products has the potential to grow exponentially providing activism, education and a push back against food industry propaganda,” he said.

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