Meat & Livestock News

Australian Sheep Flock to Decline as Lamb Slaughter Hits Record High for Second Year


  • Australia’s sheep flock is projected to decrease by 2.9% to 76.5 million in 2024, following a period of growth, due to record lamb slaughter and increased sheep turnoff.
  • Lamb production is expected to set a new record in 2024, with a 9% increase to 621,000 tonnes, continuing Australia’s position as the leading exporter of sheepmeat.
  • Mutton production is forecasted to be the highest since 2006, reaching 254,000 tonnes in 2024, with production levels expected to stabilise in the coming years.

After three years of growth, the Australian sheep flock is anticipated to decrease by 2.9% to 76.5 million in 2024. This decline is attributed to a record lamb slaughter, projected to reach 23.7 million in 2024, and an elevated turnoff of sheep, particularly older, unproductive breeding stock. This shift is partly due to the transition from favourable to average weather conditions, leading to a 46.7% increase in sheep slaughter.

Despite the decline, the focus on productivity and genetics during the 2020-2022 rebuild phase has resulted in impressive marking rates, ensuring the lamb cohort remains robust, albeit slightly smaller than in previous years.

Stephen Bignell, Manager of Market Information at MLA, notes that the resilience of the sheep flock will mitigate the impact of high lamb slaughter on the national flock size, leading to a decrease but not as significant as in previous years. The flock is expected to stabilise and remain above the ten-year average post-2024.

Lamb production is set to break records again in 2024, following a record year in 2023 with 599,461 tonnes produced. The projection for 2024 is a 9% increase to 621,000 tonnes, significantly above the ten-year average. This growth underscores Australia’s status as the largest exporter of sheepmeat, with high production levels contributing to increased volumes of globally traded sheepmeat.

Despite uncertain consumer demand in China, economic resilience in the United States and emerging markets is expected to drive demand for lamb.

Mutton production is also on the rise, with 2024 forecasted to produce the largest volume since 2006 at 254,000 tonnes, a 3.14% increase from 2023. This increase is due to a slight lift in slaughter rates, with production expected to remain elevated in 2024.

However, the turnoff of breeding ewes is expected to decrease in 2025, leading to a stabilisation of production levels as the industry enters an average season.