17 November 1995

Breed em right & eschew the fat is MLC lamb advice

By Rebecca Austin

BREEDING the right ewe to the right ram helps producers optimise every market to which they sell lambs.

This was the advice from David Croston, the Meat and Livestock Commissions lamb export manager, to delegates at a sheep profitability conference at Cirencester, Glos, last week.

"The potential adult breed weight of a lamb is the average of its parents," he said. "And the leanest carcass is produced when a lamb is slaughtered at around half that weight."

He emphasised this point as meat plants and consumers continue to demand lean carcasses. "Lamb is still conceived by the population as a very fatty meat and there are health connotations attached to that," said David Maunder of Devon-based abattoir Lloyd Maunder. "But we have a marvellous product and the meat tastes great."

In order to meet that demand Mr Maunder has been looking at technology which removes fat from lamb carcasses. "That an abattoir has to do this shows that producers are still failing to supply what is required," said Mr Croston.

In fact 55% of UK lamb production falls into the 16kg to 20kg weight bracket. Of those 24% are too fat. Half the lambs sold over 20kg dw are also classified too fat.

Within the last two years Mr Maunder has collected data, such as production methods and breed, on 2000 producers who supply the plant directly. This information has revealed that rams have a big impact on progeny performance.

"In fact, what the textbooks tell you happens in reality," he said. "We have a graph of fatness at different weights for rams. There are distinct lines: Dorset Horn-sired lambs get fatter lighter than a Texel cross which can stay leaner at heavier weights."

Leanness can be achieved through breeding, said Mr Croston. Applying the right technology helps achieve the required targets, but those services need promoting. They include ultrasonic scanning for back fat and eye muscle, as well as promoting the concept that high index rams sire lambs which are leaner at heavier weights. They also have a higher daily liveweight gain than a low index ram. Producers are therefore in a better position to cash in on market premiums and avoid unnecessary penalties.

Selecting lambs at finishing is another area for improvement. "When handling a lamb dont forget to check its dock and loin for fat level. If you get that right you can add an extra 10% to each lamb value," said Mr Croston. "But monitor that selection. Visit the abattoir and inspect your lamb carcasses. Relate your selection to their classification and thereby improve your selection technique."

With 40% of UK lamb production shipped abroad, Mr Croston was keen producers also looked to the future. "Fat might not be an issue on the Continent at the moment, but there are many in the industry who are convinced foreign buyers will start looking at other markets where it is an issue and move that way," he said.

Breeding the right ewe to the right ram will help to optimise

market returns.

MLClamb export manager David Croston – leanness can be achieved through breeding.