Sheep notes

The contribution of the sheep flock to the WA economy

The WA sheep industry is an important contributor to the state economy. In 2018/19, the industry accounted for over half the value of all livestock industries in WA. The combined sheepmeat and wool industries contributed a gross value of production of $1.5b to the WA economy, down slightly from $1.6b the previous year. Of the total contribution from the sheep industry, wool made up $976m or 32% of the value of all livestock industries, while the sheepmeat sector was worth $547m or 18% of the value of the livestock sector (Figure 1).

Sheep an lambs- 18% Wool- 32% Cattle and calves- 28% Milk- 6% Eggs- 2% Pigs- 6% Poultry and other- 8%
Figure 1 Gross value of the WA livestock sector in 2018/19 (Based on Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data, Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) analysis)

The WA sheep flock

As of July 2019, the WA sheep flock consisted of 14.3m sheep and lambs, including 7.8m breeding ewes, which comprised 55% of the flock. As illustrated in Figure 2, in recent years the flock has been relatively stable, ranging between 13.7m and 15.2m head. The size of the flock is projected to decrease in 2019/20 to between 12.9m and 13.4m head due to high numbers of sheep processed, as well as high numbers of sheep moving interstate, many of which are thought to have been breeding ewes. However, the effect of increased processing and interstate transfers on flock size may have been tempered to some degree by reduced numbers of sheep exported live.

The total combined sheep turn-off, which consists of slaughter, live export and interstate transfers, was 5.1 m head in 2018/19, a decline of 12% YOY and the lowest since 2011/12. This was largely due to the reduction in live sheep exports caused by regulatory changes, including the introduction of a mid-year trade pause for the northern hemisphere summer and reduced pen densities on board ships to reduce heat stress. Previously, turn-off had been around 5.8m to 5.9m annually.

WA sheep flock was 13.7 million in 2010/11 and has increased to 14.3 million in 201/19. The number of breeding ewes was 8.15 million in 2010/11 but has declined slightly to 7.8 million in 2018/19. Turn-off was high at 6.9 million in 2010/11 but has avera
Figure 2 WA flock size and sheep turn-off (Based on ABS data, DPIRD analysis)

Sheep turn-off

As illustrated below, the largest component of WA sheep turn-off was lamb processing, which in 2018/19 made up 52% of the total sheep turn-off or 2.7m head. Lamb processing has increased in importance to the sheep industry in recent years, increasing as a proportion of turn-off from 30% in 2010/11 to 52% last year. Adult sheep processing accounted for 27% of turn-off in 2018/19, with 1.4m head. This figure has already been eclipsed in 2019/20, despite only having ten months of processing to consider, with the total reaching 1.6m head at the end of April.

Live sheep export declined from 27% of turn-off in 2017/18, when the total exported was 1.6m sheep, to just 17% in 2018/19 with 895 000 sheep. Interstate transfers accounted for just 3% of turn-off in 2018/19 or 146 000 sheep, however 2019/20 is looking remarkably different with over 1.0m sheep already sent east so far this financial year (July – April) accounting for 18% of the turn-off. If this rate continues, interstate transfers may surpass the record-breaking number of 1.3m set in 2010/11.

Lamb slaughter was 2.1 million head in 2010/11 but increased to around 2.7-2.8 million head by 2018/19. July to April in 2019/20 it has reached 2.1 million. Sheep slaughter was 1.3 million in 2010/11. Since then it vaies from 1.4 to 1.6 million. In 2019/2
Figure 3 WA sheep turn-off. 2019/20* is a partial year only (July to April) (Based on ABS and Primary Industries and Regions South Australia (PIRSA) data, DPIRD analysis)

Interstate transfers

The trucking of WA sheep to the east has increased in recent months due largely to restocking activity in the Eastern States following a prolonged and severe drought. Between July and April 2019/20 there have been 1.05m sheep and lambs transferred east, most of which left in the early part of 2020. This compares to 146 000 for 2018/19 year (Figure 4).

Of the sheep transferred interstate this year, 56% were lambs and 44% were adult sheep. Whilst not recorded, most of the sheep are thought to have been ewes for restocking purposes. This could reduce the number of ewes available for breeding replacement stock in WA in coming years and could subsequently reduce lamb supply for local processors and exporters.

In 2016/17 and 2017/18 interstate transfers started off slowly before rising in Oct and Nov to about 0.2 million head. They then slowely continued risin to reach 0.3 and 0.25 million head respectively by June. 2018/19 was much lower. It also increased dur
Figure 4 The cumulative number of WA sheep transferred interstate by month (Based on PIRSA data, DPIRD analysis)