The WA sheep industry
The contribution of the sheep flock to the WA economy
The WA sheep industry is an important contributor to the state economy. In 2021/22, the industry accounted for 43% of the value of all livestock industries in WA. The combined sheepmeat and wool industries contributed a gross value of production of $1.35b to the WA economy, up from $1.18b the previous year. Of the total contribution from the sheep industry, wool made up $655m or 21% of the value of all livestock industries, while the sheepmeat sector was worth $692m or 22% of the value of the livestock sector.
The WA sheep flock
As of July 2022, the WA sheep flock consisted of 12.4m sheep and lambs. Following a period of relative stability between 2010/11 and 2018/19 where the flock hovered between 13.7 and 15.2m, the flock has started to decline falling to the lowest point on record since 1952 when the flock numbered 12.2m.
The total combined sheep turn-off, which consists of slaughter, live export and interstate transfers, was 4.4m head in 2021/22, a decline of 21% 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 and the removal of major markets. Adult sheep slaughter was also below average. Over the previous five years total turn-off averaged 5.8m.
As illustrated below, the largest component of WA sheep turn-off was lamb processing, which in 2021/22 made up 57% of the total sheep turn-off or 2.5m 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 57% last year. Adult sheep processing accounted for 26% of turn-off in 2021/22, with 1.16m head. This figure has already been eclipsed in 2022/23, despite only having nine months of processing data to consider, with the total reaching 1.17m head at the end of March.
Live sheep export declined from 27% of turn-off in 2017/18, when the total exported was 1.6m sheep, to just 11% in 2021/22 with 487 000 sheep. Interstate transfers accounted for 6% of turn-off in 2021/22 or 268 000 sheep, a marked decline on the record breaking 1.4 million for the two years prior.