Sheep meat

Modern Merino producers seek a fair deal for their lambs

Terry Sim, March 8, 2024

MERINO breeders are hoping full eating quality and carcase assessment industry-wide will improve the standing of their lamb carcases among processors who discount them in saleyards and over the hooks.

Casterton district wool and lamb producer Richard Currie said breeders are now producing dual purpose Merinos with good quality carcases.

“And I’m not saying that all Merinos are (dual purpose), but there are plenty that are, yet we are getting paid like they are the Merino of 100 years ago.”

At the recent Balmoral Breeders sire evaluation field day, Mr Currie asked why Merino lamb producers s are not yet getting paid for meat eating quality as is the case in the beef industry.

Meat Standards Australia carcase grading is yet to be commercialized in the lamb industry, with several processors still trialling technology to grade carcases on lean meat yield and intramuscular fat on chain.

“We are not going to send lambs to a processor and get smashed if they are not the right product — treat them as though they are a lamb and don’t punish us just because you can,” Mr Currie said.

Recent research has indicated that provided nutrition is adequate and animals are finished to a minimum fat score of 2, the intramuscular fat concentration of Merinos is either the same or higher than that of other breeds. Sheep meat eating quality is not greatly affected by breed, the research showed.

Eating quality research led by Murdoch University’s Professor David Pethick showed that the eating quality of Merino lambs can be comparable to other breeds, but that they do require more stringent pre-slaughter management than the other breeds in Australia. This often meant that producers need to send Merino lambs direct to slaughter to avoid the impacts of saleyard stress, to avoid dark cutters.

Mr Currie said there is a role for the education of processors to appreciate modern Merinos and he believed producers would focus more on carcase traits in their sheep if processor paid more for the product.

“We are producing an incredible product and getting caned for it.”

Merino lambs are generally discounted 20-30 cents a kilogram on processor grids compared to crossbred or second cross terminal-maternal breed lambs. Processors report they are processing more better quality Merino lambs, with many making the trade and heavy lamb categories. But they report Merino lambs on average still have lower lean meat yields than other terminal and maternal breeds, especially the legs, meaning further costly processing.

However, processors recognize Merinos have made massive progress in improving lamb carcases. This has been due to selection and genetic improvements, but also to better management and finishing. However, processors said Merino producers need to also recognize the higher value wool and skins on their animals compared to meat breeds, as well as the significant progress made in reproduction, with some flocks marking up to 130pc lambs and marketing saleable lambs.

However, Telangatuk East wool producer Tom Silcock said good Merino genetics are not generally being recognized by the processing trade.

Mooralla Merino producer Ricky Luhrs said he has been trying for years to get his Merino lambs into works to get good carcase feedback data and has entered the 2024 LambEx AMPC Feedlot Carcase Competition at the Thornby Feedlot in South Australia. The lambs in the ocmpetition will be fully Meat Standards Australia graded for lean meat yield, intramuscular fat and eating quality.

Australian sheep producers have entered lambs from 16 different breeds, including Merinos, Dohnes and Polwarths, British breeds, composites, Dormers, plus second cross terminal and maternal lambs, but no shedding sheep.

“I’m looking forward to the results and it was quite impressive to see a lot of Merinos there.

“So it’s watch this space to see what Lambex brings out of this trial,” Mr Luhrs said.

Cuyac Merino breeder Anthony Close said the family operation was consigning 90-95 percent of their wether lambs for direct slaughter to various processors. He queried the discounting of quality Merino lamb carcases.

“Why, is it getting sold differently at the other end, I doubt it?

“I’m in favour of getting paid for what you deliver.”

He applauded the efforts of processors like Gundagai Meat processors who pay producers on a grid based on carcase weight, lean meat yield and intramuscular fat.

“It’s making people start to think about those sort of thing (eating quality traits),” he said.

Mr Close said he was looking forward to MSA grading leading to lambs being appreciate for carcase traits regardless of breed background.

“Just pay me for what I’m delivering, don’t pay me for what the breed is.”


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  1. Doug Wright, March 16, 2024

    The modern Merino is a different type to the traditional Merino. I see the modern Merino as the future if the industry is to survive.
    After all, we don’t drive motor cars of the vintage that our grandfather’s did. The modern Merino is available now.

  2. Don Mudford, March 11, 2024

    Excellent article. Producers do need to be paid for what they produce; both on quantity and quality. Grading will come in at all processors, but it will take time.

  3. Tom Silcock, March 9, 2024

    Good story Terry. Keep looking for answers for us all.

  4. Jason 'Chippa' Gordon, March 8, 2024

    How true, pay me for what I sell you. Grade all lamb – like beef – and pay me for what I produce.
    End of story.

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