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Sheep producers urged to focus on carcass tenderness

AWSA National Conference - February 19, 2014

Prime lamb producers need to be innovative when it comes to breeding objectives and not focus on lean meat yield, according to a leading sheep meat researcher.

Victorian Department of Environment and Primary Industries lamb production research manager Matthew Knight said the drive to produce more meat and less carcass fat had resulted in an average 1.5kg of increased lean meat yield over the past decade.

Dr Knight said the challenge for the lamb industry was to now focus on tenderness.

“If we breed sheep pushing for lean meat yield, it has a negative affect on intra-muscular fat percentage, shearforce or tenderness…and we run the risk of decreasing overall meat quality,’’ he said.

“We must keep an eye on what the consumer wants as they are prepared to pay good dollars for a consistent product and a good eating experience.’’

Speaking at the Australian White Suffolk Association annual conference, Dr Knight said studies showed consumers were willing to pay 50 per cent more for red meat products with guaranteed eating quality.

He said optimizing carcass compliance using Meat Standards Australia guidelines contributed to eating quality.

Higher levels of intra-muscular fat (IMF) relate directly to juiciness, flavour and tenderness in red meat.

The ideal range of IMF in lamb is 4-6 per cent, with crossbred lambs averaging 4.2 per cent.

Genetic research by the Sheep Co-operative Research Centre has shown IMF is moderately to highly heritable in prime lamb breeds.

Dr Knight said there had been significant advances in growth rate, leanness and muscling but little development in tenderness, pH and IMF in lamb.

A DEPI producer demonstration trial in south-west Victoria aims to validate research breeding values for lean meat yield and eating quality across multiple environments and supply chains.

In 2012-2013, there were two sites in Victoria at Hamilton and Greenwald using terminal sires joined to composite ewes.

This year, the trial has been expanded to 20 sites nationally, using terminal and Merino genetics.

In Victoria, 80 eating quality samples were received out of 200 animals slaughtered from four farms.

Dr Knight said preliminary analysis this week showed a large range in tenderness, with IMF content yet to be investigated.

-Kim Woods

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