Tastier value-for-money lamb

Differences between lambs in tenderness and predicted meat yield are apparently attributable to their genes, not just their environment.

Flocks at Cowra and Trangie agricultural research stations are contributing to world-first research within the Cooperative Research Centre for Sheep Industry Innovation (Sheep CRC) that aims to gather the genetic information needed to breed for improved production, eating quality and nutritional value of lamb.

The progeny of these flocks are part of the Sheep CRC Information Nucleus (IN) flock.

They are being measured extensively for key traits relevant to growth, meat yield and eating quality that would be familiar to producers, plus some new and novel traits which may improve the nutritional value of lamb.

Knowing the potential impact of industry breeding programs on these traits is critical to keeping lamb tasty, healthy, value for money and demanded by consumers.

NSW DPI researcher, Sue Mortimer, will analyse the level of inheritance (heritability) of meat traits and the genetic relationships among them.

She will work with researchers from the CRC’s Next Generation Meat Quality Program, who will do the measuring and some related analysis.

“Components of yield, tenderness, eating quality and nutritional value of lamb samples have now been measured from about 4000 animals of the first two drops of the IN flock, with more measurements to come on a further three drops,” Dr Mortimer said.

“Very early results from these unique data are promising – it appears that the differences between animals in tenderness and predicted meat yield are affected by their genes and not simply by the environment in which they grew.

“More data will confirm if this is indeed the case, but just as importantly will examine the genetic relationships among the meat traits as well as relationships with growth and live scanning traits.

“This information is needed to predict the consequences of selection from current industry breeding programs, allowing monitoring of changes in unselected traits important to consumer demand.

“Where these changes are likely to be unfavourable then adjustments can be made to breeding programs to ensure that lamb retains its consumer market position.

“Already it is known that the relationship between muscling and tenderness may not be favourable, as earlier research by NSW DPI’s David Hopkins has shown that selection for muscling may result in greater toughness of some lamb cuts,” Dr Mortimer said.

Animals born at Cowra and Trangie  are the progeny of Merino and first cross ewes from AI matings to key industry sires drawn from a range of breeds.

Contact Sue Mortimer, Trangie, (02) 6880 8008, sue.mortimer@dpi.nsw.gov.au

Vast repository of genetic info

Unmulesed Merinos, lamb survival, sheep reproduction, body wrinkle, e-sheep management and improved meat quality were topics for discussion at a recent open day at the Cowra Agricultural Research and Advisory Station.

More than 250 producers, industry representatives, processors and researchers attended.

The event showcased results from the Cooperative Research Centre for Sheep Industry Innovation (Sheep CRC) Information Nucleus (IN) project which aims to transform the future of the Australian sheepmeat and wool industries.

NSW Department of Primary Industries principal research scientist, David Hopkins, said the day was a great opportunity to discuss with stakeholders what the project had achieved to date and its aims.

“We had some very valuable feedback and it was great to see the level of confidence (which exists) in the future of wool and sheep meat,” Dr Hopkins said.

Sessions on improving the Sunday roast rivalled the popularity of the lamb lunch prepared by local TAFE students, and there were some passionate exchanges on micron width and fleece quality.

The project is recording up to 150 different traits which could lead to genetic improvements in local flocks.

Producers welcomed the opportunity to see the 2007 and 2008 drops from the Cowra 500-ewe IN flock.

NSW DPI researcher, Gordon Refshauge, said the world-first project was using 5000 ewes and 100 sires from a broad range of breeds across the country to create an enormous wealth of genetic information.

“Results were of interest to both breeders and commercial producers with traits evaluated for heritability and potential genetic markers, so future breeding plans can better meet changes in the environment and consumer demand,” Mr Refshauge said.

“The massive scope of the five-year project will deliver a vast repository of genetic information to transform the industry and take it well into the future.”

NSW DPI has another IN flock of 500 ewes at the Trangie Agricultural Research Centre, with the remainder of the Sheep CRC IN flocks located at Armidale, Katanning, Western Australia, Turretfield, South Australia, Struan, SA, Hamilton, Victoria, and Rutherglen, Vic.

IN is supported by Meat and Livestock Australia, Australian Wool Innovation, Merino Select, Lambplan, industry representatives, processors and research agencies from NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia.

Contact David Hopkins and Gordon Refshauge, Cowra, (02) 6349 9777.

Further reading

Lamb marketing

Staff profile: Sue Mortimer

Staff profile: David Hopkins

Sheep breeding and selection