Western Australia (WA) has a herd of approximately two million head of beef cattle distributed throughout the state.
For the past five years the WA beef herd has remained relatively stable. Over half of the WA beef herd is made up of breeding cows and heifers with the remainder comprising of bulls, steers and calves.
WA's herd is distributed between the northern and eastern rangelands and southern agricultural regions. The state's herd is almost evenly distributed 50:50 between the rangelands and agricultural regions.
With a National herd of 22.3 million head of beef cattle and calves (2015/16), Australia's total value of beef production (including live exports) was $A13.1 billion with a production of 2.1m tonnes of beef and veal (Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS)).
In comparison, Western Australia's beef production is on a much smaller but not insignificant scale. The total value of the WA beef industry is A$857.4 million which includes the live export industry, domestic consumption and boxed beef exports (both chilled and frozen).
In 2016, WA turned-off a total of 757 000 head of cattle with approximately 347 000 head of cattle for live export (A$400m), 64 000 tonnes for domestic consumption and 41 000 tonnes carcase equivalent of processed beef exported either as frozen or chilled boxed product (A$171m).
Australia exports most of its beef and veal production with 72% exported in 2016 (ABS data, DPIRD analysis).
WA exports only one third of the beef produced with the other two thirds being consumed domestically.
Export market growth represents a significant opportunity and is a sector where the WA government is supporting bi-lateral investment to develop integrated value chains.
The WA cattle herd is distributed between extensive pastoral stations in the north and east of the state and smaller, more intensive farms in the Agricultural Region in the south-west of the state. The distribution of the WA herd in each of the regions is shown in Figure 1.
The WA beef industry is comprised of approximately 4000 cattle businesses with 25% owning more than 500 head of cattle (ABS 2010/11).
The 500 largest cattle producers own more than 75% of the state’s herd.
By number, the largest herds are located in the northern part of the state in the Kimberley region.
The distribution and size of cattle properties across the state is largely determined by the productivity of land types, climate and pattern of rainfall distribution.
Properties in the pastoral or rangelands region are generally significantly larger than southern properties and predominantly run Bos indicus (Brahman type) cattle. The majority of these properties in the pastoral region are leasehold. Cattle are grazed on native grasses and shrubs. Stocking rates are typically range from 1–3 cattle units (CU) per square kilometre (a standard cattle unit is equivalent to a 400kg steer at maintenance).
Properties in the Southern Agricultural Region tend to be smaller in size than the pastoral region with many being mixed enterprises with cropping and livestock.
These properties operate with higher stocking rates due to more reliable rainfall, longer growing season and better quality forages.
Cattle are predominantly Bos taurus (British breed) with stocking rates typically between 1–3 CU/hectare.
Cattle are grazed on improved pastures including annual rye grasses, subterranean clover and sub-tropical perennial grasses.
Figure 1. Distribution of the WA cattle herd by region (source: ABS 2011 and PLB 2013).