It has been a strong start to 2024 for Australian red meat processing volumes across the east coast with beef and sheep meat abattoir throughput running ahead of annual average trends. East coast cattle slaughter has average weekly kills of nearly 83,000 head since the start of January, which is 11% higher than the January 2023 open and about 8% above the five-year average weekly pattern.
East coast mutton processing has managed an even stronger seasonal opening with average weekly volumes over January sitting at almost 17% above the volumes seen during the first three weeks of January 2023. So far January 2024 has seen weekly east coast mutton slaughter average nearly 127,000 head per week. Compared to the five-year average pattern these mutton slaughter levels are almost 28% above the seasonal trend for this time in the year.
The start of the year for east coast lamb slaughter volumes has been similarly impressive with average weekly January kill volumes sitting at nearly 377,000 head per week. During the same time in January 2023 strong volumes were also recorded (circa 315,000 head per week) but current lamb abattoir throughput is running 20% higher than this time last year. Compared to the five-year average trend for January the current season is even more robust, sitting 30% above the five-year seasonal trend.
Given the strong offshore demand noted for Australian red meat to the end of 2023 it is good to see domestic processors managing to get livestock through the kill floor in such an efficient manner. However, annual slaughter volumes anticipated for 2024 of around 7.2 million head of cattle, along with 29.7 million head of sheep and lamb, are still short of the drought inspired turnoff we can see of around 9 million head of cattle and 32 million head of sheep when the season really turns dry. This reminds us that the processing sector needs ongoing support to be able to attract skilled staff and continue to build kill floor efficiency through the implementation of robotics and other labour saving practices.