Record-high cattle prices mean it could soon be rare to find a decent steak at a pub, club or restaurant for under $50.
In October 2019, Queanbeyan’s Royal Hotel’s rib-eye on the bone was crowned Australia’s best steak following a nationwide search of the best pub meals.
And while the rib-eye will set you back $45 (with either salad/chips or mash/vegetables), the pub has since upped the stakes by offering a 1.5 kg Royal Tomahawk for $165, which apparently feeds three people.
The 2+ marble grade steak is basted with shiraz and garlic during grilling and served with two types of potatoes and more sides than you can poke a chip at.
A prime-cut rib at Hog’s Breath will also set you back $45.45 before adding any fancy flavourings, while the cook-your-own option at the Kingston Hotel is $29.30 for a 450-gram rib-eye steak on the bone. A large rump steak is a cheaper option at $21.50, while a 250-gram rump at the Royal Hotel is $31.
Stock and station agent with South East Livestock Exchange at Yass Greg Anderson is one of many seeing a resurgence in cattle prices from excellent recent rainfall and the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning meat is at a premium.
“Cattle prices are at an all-time high, and it seems to be going from strength to strength on the back of a bit of rain. The weaner market has dipped a bit with a few frosts, but overall, the cattle market is on fire,” Mr Anderson said.
“We sold nearly 800 at Yass this week, which is pretty good, but it’s the price that is at an all-time high. Heavy cows were $330 a head, while heavy feeder steers were $4.95 a kilo two weeks ago for steers that were up to 480 kg. We haven’t seen that before.
“I can certainly see why restaurants are paying a premium for a good steak at the moment.”
Meat and Livestock Australia this week reported male and female carcase weights continued to break new ground. According to ABS March quarter data, male and female weight averages hit 341 kg and 281 kg, respectively.
This year, the cattle herd is also expected to grow five per cent to 25.9 million head, close to its size in 2019 before the final year of the drought-induced liquidation. Live export numbers are estimated to be 750,000 head as the high Australian dollar and cattle prices put pressure on exporter and importer margins.
Low slaughter rates due to the need to fatten cattle for longer have also led to a shortage of quality beef.
Head chef at the Royal Hotel Queanbeyan, Beat Ettlin, says the Royal gets most of its meat from the Bungendore Butchery, and the region’s chefs are competing with the export market which always takes the best quality meat first.
“The big problem with our beef supply is that we are seeing a massive shortage of beef here in Australia,” Mr Ettlin said. “As with all chefs, we are constantly talking with suppliers and butchers to find quality cuts of meat.
“We’re also seeing the best cuts of beef being exported to countries such as China, Russia and Argentina, which is surprising in some aspects but speaks volumes about the quality of Australian beef.”
However, demand for a good steak remains high at the Royal Hotel, where they sell between 80 and 120 rib-eye steaks and between 60 and 80 rump steaks a week.
“The higher prices of beef mean we are also selling more pork, lamb and chicken, while looking at ways to do nice meals from cheaper cuts of meat,” Mr Ettlin said.