Figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed that Australian sheep slaughter in 2004 jumped 6 percent over the previous year, to 11.1 million head. This is the first year-on-year increase since 2000.
While total sheep slaughter for the year increased against 2003 levels, slaughter rates in 2004 were still historically low, due largely to the reduced supply of sheep following several years of drought. Excluding 2003, slaughter rates in 2004 were the lowest in 20 years.
Part of the increase in sheep slaughter during 2004 can be attributed to the sharp drop in live exports during the year, which left increased numbers of wethers available for slaughter. Live sheep exports fell sharply in 2004, mainly due to high Australian sheep prices, a rising Australian dollar, the suspension of trade to Saudi Arabia and strong competition from other meats in Middle Eastern markets.