YOUNG cattle prices continue to hold up, despite the strong market flushing out more stock than would be typical for this time of year and clear signs of significant progress in the herd rebuild.
The benchmark Eastern Young Cattle Indicator has been nudging the $9 a kilogram carcase weight barrier all week, sitting currently at 898.60c, up 8c on a week ago and 161c on this time last year.
Restockers and feeders remain the driving force, with feed still in paddocks and the prospect of ongoing rain and warmer temperatures through winter adding additional fuel to their frenzy.
The latest Bureau of Meteorology forecast has the majority of Australia, particularly in NSW and QLD, experiencing average to above-average rainfall between June and September.
Processors are taking less than 10 per cent of EYCI-eligible cattle, and yesterday paid on average 116c less than the restocker. That explains why the four-day shutdown of the country's biggest processor JBS, on the back of a cyber attack, had little effect on the store market.
Agents said a major processor buyer out of the market for that length of time would have had a far great impact had it been around October when backlogs of kill cattle were far greater.
JBS continued to buy cattle for their feedlots last week.
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Elders Southern livestock manager Matt Tinkler said slaughter cattle were currently in very tight supply, to the point it would be likely major processors would start to drop kill days this week, if they hadn't already.
"On the flip side, prices and demand from restockers and feedlots continues to stay very strong and that is bringing forward numbers in store markets," he said.
Supply was shaping up to be extremely tight come spring.
Peter McConachy, livestock sales manager at Charles Stewart, Colac, agreed.
"Most of our cattle are going through store sales now because of the feedlot competition, which is mainly driven by northern lack of supply," he said.
"Prime cattle numbers are always less in winter but numbers are down more because cattle weren't replaced six months ago due to big prices.
"We've sold a lot of spring-drop calves that would typically be marketed in November.
"We're headed for extreme shortages later this year and weaner numbers in January will likely be impacted."
Mr McConachy said the best buying at the moment was females, with the intent of 'breeding your way forward'.
Government data shows carcase weights are on the rise, with Meat & Livestock Australia analysts pointing to better fattening conditions after drought-breaking rains in many cattle regions catering for steady lifts.
The high prices were also providing an economic incentive to maximise weight gain, they said.
Another contributing factor was the consistent improvement in cattle genetics and gains in the lotfeeding sector that have continuously driven cattle weights higher, they said.
Meanwhile, the female slaughter rate is continuing to decline, indicating more retention of breeding stock on-farm and a progressing rebuild, MLA reported.
Online, overall offerings fell 21 per cent to 15,725 head in the past week, with AuctionsPlus reporting good falls through the eastern states simultaneously reducing supplies and refreshing buyer demand.
While there was a drop in prices for the heaviest category of both steers and heifers, 200 to 280kg heifers averaged $52 higher on the previous week and the online cow market was largely stronger.
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