Western Australian Beef Commentary

The Western Australian beef cattle herd

Over the last decade the Western Australian (WA) beef cattle herd has been relatively stable, hovering between 1.8 and 2.1 million head. As of July 2019 the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) estimated the WA beef herd to number 1.9 million head including 1.1 million cows and heifers (Figure 1). The proportion of breeding females in the herd increased in 2018/19 from 54% of the herd in 2017/18 to 57%, despite record cow slaughter. 

Total herd turn-off, consisting of live export and domestic cattle slaughter, has moved between 604 000 in 2012/13 and 792 000 in 2019/20. The 792 000 cattle turned off in 2019/20 was an increase of 11% compared to 2018/19 and could be partly due to poor seasonal conditions and favourable prices.

Changes in the size of the WA beef herd, number of cows and heifers and total turn-off between 2010/11 and 2019/20
WA beef cattle herd, breeding herd and turn-off (Based on ABS data, Department of Primary Industries & Regional Development (DPIRD) analysis)


Between 2016/17 and 2019/20 both domestic slaughter and live cattle exports (breeding and non-breeding cattle) from WA have been on an upwards trend (Figure 2). Over that time period, slaughter has increased 24% from 374 000 to 462 000 head, while live cattle exports have also increased 24% from 265 000 to 330 000 head. As the herd size has remained steady over that time, this indicates improved productivity allowing for the turn-off of more cattle from the same size herd. This could be due to improved calving rates and better calf survival or lower mortality rates. As a proportion of turn-off, domestic slaughter accounted for 58% of turn-off while live cattle exports made up 42% of turn-off in 2019/20.

The number of cattle slaughtered has moved between 446 000 and 462 000 over the lsat decade. The number exported live has moved between 339 000 and 330 000.
Figure 2 The number of WA cattle turned off via domestic slaughter and live exports (Based on ABS data, DPIRD analysis)

Gross value of production

The gross value of the WA beef cattle herd has increased significantly over the last 10 years as seen in Figure 3. In 2018/19 the value of beef production reached $828 million, up 4% year on year and was the 2nd largest industry within the livestock sector behind wool. It has increased 36% compared to 2010/11 when the value of production was $609 million.<--pagebreak-->

Chart illustrates changes to the GVAP for different parts of the WA livestock sector over time concentrating on cattle. Cattle have moved from $609 million in 2010/11 to $828 million.
Figure 3 Gross value of production of the WA livestock sector (Based on ABS data, DPIRD analysis)