24 May 2002

Investment is needed for a quality lamb

Investing in sheep

improvement can bring

significant, accumulative

and sustainable carcass

quality improvements, as

Robert Davies found out

at a seminar in

Herefordshire last week

PROGRESS in sheep breeding at a number of research institutes was improving carcass quality, agreed scientists from ADAS, the Institute of Rural Studies at Aberystwyth and SAC Edinburgh.

Now, the industry had no option but to continue the work, said DEFRAs meat trade adviser Mike Roper.

Speaking at an ADAS Rosemaund seminar, he said only 47% of lambs slaughtered in Britain matched target carcass specifications and consumption was in decline. Abattoirs were not sending the right price signals about quality and the industry still suffered the consequence of a sheepmeat regime which encouraged production, irrespective of quality.

But links between production and subsidies were being broken and producers would become more exposed to market forces. Environmental pressures, including the drive to cut ammonia produced by livestock production, would reduce stocking rates and it was imperative that the fewer lambs produced were better quality, said Mr Roper.

"DEFRA is committed to supporting breeding programmes that provide the tools for improving carcass quality," he insisted.

Brian Merrell, ADASs livestock business development manager, acknowledged that growing pressure to reduce sheep numbers on hill farms should encourage producers to improve income using better flock management and genetic improvement.

"Hill breeds are important. They influence 35% of the genetic make-up of prime lambs reaching market. But until recently there had been relatively little formal genetic improvement work within hill breeds," said Mr Merrell.

He also believed there had been over emphasis on aesthetic qualities and the need to retain characteristics which allow sheep to survive tough conditions.

But there was research data indicating it was possible to improve carcasses without losing maternal traits like mothering ability and longevity, or increasing lamb mortality.

Ron Lewis of SAC Edinburgh, who is working in Virginia, said the UK was light years ahead of the US on improving carcass quality. He was particularly impressed by work comparing influence of terminal sires with either high or low lean growth indexes.

"Early results show lambs sired by high index tups have 0.5kg of extra saleable lean meat, a 7% higher lean to fat ratio and 2% more leg steaks."

While enormous improvements in carcass quality had been achieved already, Mr Lewis forecast that the use of CT scanning could accelerate progress by 20 to 30%. "It is up to the industry to grasp the tools available to produce the sort of lambs customers are prepared to pay for." &#42

Lambs by high index tups produce more lean meat, but CTscanning could speed progress by 20-30%, says Ron Lewis.

&#8226 Progress being made.

&#8226 Aiming for quality carcasses.

&#8226 Needs abattoir support.