AUSTRALIAN ram breeders were yesterday warned to include eating quality traits in their breeding programs to remain competitive.
At the Sheep CRC Concept to Impact Conference in Adelaide, Meat & Livestock Australia’s program manager for eating quality research and development Alex Ball said ram breeders have “had a holiday for the last five years.”
“Commercial clients are going to start to demand much more from ram breeding values and from breeders.
“They are going to look for matching genetics to suit their client needs,” he said.
Dr Ball told Merino ram breeders to start including eating quality traits – intramuscular fat and shear force – in their breeding programs, “because you drive 70 percent of the productivity of the Australian lamb industry.
“If you think we are going to sit back and let you not do work, you are kidding yourself.”
Dr Ball said tools and technologies being developed by the Sheep CRC were bridging the interface between consumer demand for eating quality and the producer.
The challenge was in getting those key signals right the way back from the consumer to the producer.
Rapid change in the industry would come through the linking of genomics with the development of lean meat yield and eating quality measurement technology.
“We are now putting out into the industry this year 2500 rams with intramuscular fat breeding values,” Dr Ball said.
“Commercial breeders are going to benchmarked by ‘everybody in the industry’ for their ability to target genetics, management, performance and inputs. You are going to have information that you have never had before, and you are going to be benchmarked on that range of information.”
Dr Ball said the ram selections breeders made this year would influence their operations for the next two to six years.
“If you don’t apply breeding values of intramuscular fat and shear force this year, for the next six years you are going to be out of the game, it’s as simple as that.”
He said real-time benchmarks of lambs’ eating quality consumer performance would enable further differentiation between lamb brands.
“We are seeing that in beef at the moment and it will be there in lamb in the next 12 months. The ability to segregate producers on performance and value of product is right at your doorstep.”
Dr Ball said objective measurement of eating quality traits by processors was the bottle-neck at the moment.
“But we are about to change it; I think we will have intramuscular measurements within the plants within the next six months.”
Lamb eating quality already underpinned the Australian sheep industry, he said.
“If it doesn’t, we will end up being just another commodity product.
“The Australian lamb industry will only survive as long as eating quality remains at the forefront of everybody’s mind in the room today.”
In response to calls for producers to be rewarded for improving eating quality, Dr Ball said processors had been reluctant to give carcase feedback because they lacked confidence in the measuring technologies available.
Once processors engaged with new measurement technologies they would have the confidence to pass meat quality feedback back to the producer to create a win-win situation, he said.
But Dr Ball said the different between lamb at $14 a kilogram and pork at $8 a kilogram was solely due to consumers’ experiences and industry’s ability to lift eating quality.
“If you think we are not getting paid for it, ask the consumer why they are buying lamb, they are buying it because it is a great product. It’s all about lamb’s intramuscular fat and it’s all about quality, so you get paid for it every day.”
Once processors started to measure large numbers of lambs for lean meat yield and intramuscular fat and return feedback to producers, then farmers would become more engaged in the process, he said.
Sheep CRC meat program leader David Pethick said the industry had the genetic parameters and the production systems to manage lean meat yield and eating quality.
“Everybody in this room is going to be buying or producing rams based on intramuscular fat within five years,” he said.