How clean sheep help to improve shelf life of Welsh lamb

Farmers’ efforts to present stock for slaughter as clean as possible is helping to boost the shelf life of Welsh lamb to well beyond a month for some products, according to Hybu Cig Cymru (Meat Promotion Wales).

HCC has revealed that the sector has achieved a 10% improvement in shelf life, despite the disruptions cause by Covid.

Shelf life does vary between different cuts, but the average is now 36.5 days, up from 21 to 28 days a few years ago.

See also: Young sheep farmers share tips on year-round lamb marketing

Increasing shelf life has been identified as a key driver in helping Welsh lamb’s competitiveness in the domestic retail market and in attracting new export customers.

Limit contamination

Achieving a long shelf life involves making sure that cleanliness is maintained throughout the supply chain and having good temperature control after slaughter to limit microbial contamination and keep microbial growth to an absolute minimum.

However, the condition in which livestock is presented to slaughter has the biggest impact on the potential contamination of the carcass.      

“As it has become ever more important to export to markets outside of Europe, improving shelf life is an important strategic aim,” said HCC industry development and relations manager John Richards.

“The shelf life figure varies somewhat between different cuts; some products now have a shelf life of significantly longer than a month, which is a great help in attracting new export customers.

“But extending shelf life also helps in being able to achieve a consistent year-round supply to retailers in Britain, so it’s doubly pleasing to see this continued improvement.”

Case study

The Rhug Estate, a former winner of Farmers Weekly’s Farmer of the Year award, produces organic Welsh lamb which it sells to clients including Michelin-starred restaurants and buyers in Hong Kong, Dubai and Singapore.

The estate comprises the main farm in Corwen, Denbighshire, and Ty Mawr, on the Gwynedd coast.

Quality and consistency of the product is vital to compete in these distant export markets, so cleanliness at slaughter is extremely important to the business.

Farm manager Gareth Jones says: “Until you start to sell the meat that you produce, you don’t realise the importance of shelf life. For retail it’s absolutely essential. 

“Lambs must be as clean as possible when slaughtered in order to minimise the potential bacterial count.

“There is a vast difference in the cleanliness of lambs that have been housed prior to transportation to the abattoir and those that are transported direct from field to abattoir.”

All of Rhug’s lambs are housed overnight before they are transported for slaughter. “They have access to water, but feed withdrawal is an important aspect for maintaining cleanliness,” Mr Jones says. 

Lambs are clipped as close to slaughter as possible, when required by the abattoir, otherwise clipping is done depending on the cleanliness of the lambs, the weather and the method that was used to finish the lambs.

“We always use sawdust as bedding during transportation to ensure the lambs are as clean as possible when they arrive at the abattoir,” Mr Jones says.