CATTLE feedlots are holding their own in Australia despite high grain prices.
Figures released by Meat and Livestock Australia last week show 717,145 cattle were on feed from July to September.
And while numbers were back 9 per cent on the June quarter, they are on par with this time last year.
The figure held up due to increased drafts of cattle going in feedlots in Queensland and Western Australia. But these increases offset falls in the other main lotfeeding states, with falls of 16 per cent in Victoria and 19 per cent in NSW.
There were 94,814 cattle on feed at the end of September in Victorian feedlots, and 418,412 in NSW facilities.
MLA spokesman Ben Thomas said total feedlot utilisation remained relatively low, at 56 per cent.
"While higher input prices placed pressure during the September quarter, the sluggish global environment and the high Australian dollar continued to challenge exporters, especially for higher valued product," he said.
Statistics show why numbers into feedlots are down.
Exports to two of Australia's major customers for grainfed beef were down in the September quarter.
Japan took 4 per cent less grainfed beef from July-September, dropping to 33,801 tonnes, while Korea imported 23 per cent less beef in the same period, down to 7776 tonnes.
There was a bright spot though. Exports to less traditional destinations rose, with greater amounts of grainfed beef sent to south-east Asia, the Middle East and Europe.
Together, these markets took 9105 tonnes. On the ground, steer feeder prices remained on a par with this time last year.
Figures show yearling steers, C2 and 330-400kg liveweight, averaged 205c/kg in the September quarter, consistent with last year's rates.
Australian Lot Feeders Association president Don McKay said the fall in numbers from the June to September quarter was driven by higher grain feed prices, especially in southern states.
"Feed barley and wheat prices in the Riverina increased by 18 per cent and 34 per cent respectively over the quarter while a resilient dollar, US competition and continued difficult economic conditions in our major export markets stymied any chance for beef demand growth," he said.
Meanwhile, the drought in the US is continuing to influence feedlot numbers there. There are currently 2.2 million cattle in US feedlots, the lowest number since October 1996.