Taking pride in the health, welfare and presentation of animals is a good thing. Combined with protecting the environment through sustainable management practices this forms the basis of the message that needs to go out to consumers that lamb is a healthy and safe product.
However, market research shows that cost of a cut of meat is also an important driver of buying decisions. It’s not just the cost per kg that consumer look for, but the total cost of the pack. This is, in part, the reason why most lambs need to fall into the carcass weight bracket of 16 – 21kg to hit the requirements of the major markets. If the price per pack is higher, even at the same price per kg then a consumer can often be put off making the purchase.
So what does this mean for ram breeders? Lambs need to reach the required finish without going over the 21kg carcass weight. The quicker the offspring of individual rams reach their target weight the more profitable the system can be. Optimising levels of fat coverage is also important. With visual assessment alone unable to fully assess carcass traits the role of ultrasonic scanning of the loin and even CT scanning is becoming increasingly important in any breeding programme.
There are already good arguments for carefully considering how breeding decisions can impact upon the meat cuts which are purchased by the consumer. Looking to the future (which a good breeding programme should always do) there are also possibilities that the system of grading lambs will move away from the EUROP classification grid.
The EUROP grid is increasingly considered to be an outdated method for the grading of a lamb carcass which fails to recognise the relative value of the different parts of the animal. The question each breeder needs to ask themselves is whether their genetics are being ‘future-proofed’.
If lambs are paid for on the basis of meat yield or even individual cuts will the rams being bred fully meet those new requirements? For now, ram breeders can best address the changing market requirements by including ultrasonic scanning for muscle and fat depth into their selection decisions. Stock rams should be purchased from flocks that have been making progress in this area for a number of years and which ideally are also CT scanning a proportion of their lambs.