Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Great Tasting Lamb

I am writing around this topic again because I read another article on taste research, presumably this one was put out by Headwaters, given it appears in both the NZ farmer and Farmers Weekly.

Headwaters are essentially an entity that breeds composite sheep (a cross between Romney, Texel, Finn and Perendale breeds as stated in the article).  As I understand it their rams are sold to shareholder farmers of the entity.   I am unaware whether this breed is now what is considered stabilised or not, by this I mean whether they still introduce outside purebreds eg a Romney ram: if not its stabilised and no additional hybrid vigour is being introduced.

I read the article and again it repeats the importance of polyunsaturated intramuscular fat and omega-3 fatty acids being key factors in succulent tasty lamb.   I certainly not saying this is not correct, but I do think you will find that if they have 30000 lambs meeting such criteria, then there will be millions of other lambs around the country that would also fulfill such criteria.  If what they are doing is indeed the benchmark, why isn’t Alliance rolling this out for all its suppliers, given the suggestion there may be a premium for good tasting lamb one day: wow what a radicle idea that is!!  A day all of us are looking forward to.

There are many things that go into taste: I understand for example that Alliance acknowledges that if the meat yield gets too high, then the eating quality of such a lamb seriously diminishes.  Similarly others would argue that very fast growing lambs are also not that tasty as such animals lack a covering of fat (which does seem at odds with whats written in the headwaters article, love to see the data on this).  Generally, as with most things there is balance to be struck between meat yield and growth, it’s a rarity to find an animal high on both.

I have stated this before:  historically if you asked someone considered a stockmen and one who likes to eat decent lamb or mutton, then almost every time the answer will be the best eating lamb is either a Southdown or merino cross lamb.    The explanation being that both of these breeds have very fine wool and as such that translates into fine textured meat that is succulent and very tasty.  When is a company like Alliance actually going to fund some research to verify whether this is true or not.    If indeed if it is true: then we already have established breeds that will provide the consumer with very enjoyable lamb eating experience.  I almost always only ever eat Southdown cross mutton or lamb and I have never ever had a visitor not blown away by how nice it was.  It would be good to know if this could be done on a national basis.

The comments in this headwaters article regarding fat, namely the focus on moving away from lean meat and have some fat cover on your ewe flock, is certainly not something unique to Headwaters.   Most breeders worth their salt today are focusing on this, indeed even SIL (Sheep Improvement Limited) have acknowledged that rewarding animals with no fat with high ebvs is not right and results in a sheep that you don’t want.    There are many breeders who have endeavoured to keep a balance between growth and doing ability (yes fat).  Condition scoring your ewes regularly and culling those hard doing ewes is one way that every farmer in the country can easily improve this aspect of our sheep.

I do think that one of the quickest way to improve the taste of lamb, apart from all the research that many groups and breeders are doing (not just Headwaters), would be for Meat companies to quite simply pay a premium for those lambs that are ready to kill, i.e. they are thriving and in good order, (they have some fat cover) as opposed to so many lambs that are killed on weight alone, but are hard and extremely lean, who wants to eat that!!

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