The end of March brought with it another record for cattle feedlots, with numbers on feed hitting a new all-time high of 1.146 million nationally (figure 1).
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It's easy to jump to the conclusion that cheaper store cattle in the first quarter of the year drove feedlots to load up, but this was not entirely the case.
The number of cattle exiting feedlots was down markedly, with 8 per cent fewer grain-fed cattle marketed.
This meant that placements of cattle on feed didn't need to be at record levels, in fact, they were also down on December, albeit by just 2 per cent. Placements for the March quarter were the fourth highest on record.
We know high slaughter rates in the first quarter were driven by female kill and it seems this has led to fewer cattle being required from feedlots.
The proportion of cattle slaughtered that were grain-fed in the March quarter fell to 37.4 per cent, from 42.5 per cent in December.
The biggest feedlot state, Queensland, set a new record for cattle on feed numbers, rising 4 per cent since December 2018.
Lotfeeding in South Australia has been expanding rapidly. While it still only holds 4.3 per cent of the total, SA has grown 59 per cent in the last year and is running at 97 per cent capacity.
NSW was the only state with falling numbers of cattle on feed, down 2 per cent on December.
Marketings in NSW were at similar levels, but placements were still not high enough to replace those sold.
With record numbers of cattle on feed, yet lower marketings, we get a strong carryover of cattle. That is, there are more cattle that have been on feed for more than three months.
We have seen a sharp rise in the number of cattle, which were carried over in the March quarter (figure 2).
What does it mean?
Record cattle on feed obviously means that we are due to see record numbers exiting feedlots this autumn and winter.
The backlog of cattle, especially in Queensland, will no doubt fill holes when the supply of females and grass finished cattle ease.
Increasing numbers of cattle on feed and feedlot capacity, does raise questions as to whether the cattle exiting this winter will be replaced.