Tuesday, February 7, 2017
In response to an article I wrote a month or so ago regarding the eating quality of our lamb, it was suggested that if we stopped killing and processing ram lambs, then this would go a long way to sorting this issue.
The same person did acknowledge that the Meat companies have carried out taste tests to satisfy themselves to the contrary (but she “questions those results”). I understand that a few years ago Alliance undertook significant research in this regard and found there was no difference.
Where do I stand on this? As a pragmatic farmer applying a common sense approach view to this question, for me it simply comes down to the age and maturity of the animal in question.
My lambs are born from I September onwards. I generally aim to kill my lambs at a live weight of 44 kgs or above; in the hope of averaging between a 19 and 20 kg carcass weight. As I am all studs, I don’t kill lambs off mum; the majority of all lambs have to be weighed at weaning and again at least 6 weeks later to obtain meaningful genetic growth figures for selling rams. The last of my works lambs are killed by early to Mid-April, of which the large majority of these are ewe lambs.
Do I think there is an issue with the taste of the ram lambs that I kill during this period? The answer is quite simply NO! The lambs are young and being killed at, for the want of a better term, what I would call an immature weight. The combination of these two factors I would think ensures there is no difference in taste. Take a ram lamb say born 1 September, which is killed in early April as it has only just reached 44kg live weight, which incidentally is firstly a bloody cull, and secondly inevitably a multiple and most importantly still immature, so will there be an issue as to taste: I somewhat doubt it. This assumes the lamb is in good condition, i.e. prime, for which the works should pay a premium (and do not) as that must affect the eating quality and taste of the lamb.
But if you take a ram lamb that is 50kg or more live weight over that same period, then the sex of this lamb may affect taste, as it’s obviously a very mature lamb. I do sell a few through Temuka that are 50 kg or more, because being a stud breeder I can’t cull my lambs till early February (for the reason outlined above: growth figures). But generally no lamb is going to reach such a live weight before being killed.
Similarly a skinny ram lamb (i.e. not prime, for whatever reason that achieves the target live weight of 44kg and is killed, there could be an issue as to taste but primarily because its skinny not because it’s a ram lamb, as its very unlikely that such a lamb has attained any form of maturity.
Accordingly the works present payment regime: that pays you even more abysmally for heavy lambs and that the lambs are still young i.e. killed by Mid-April ensures the sex of the lamb has very little if not no bearing at all on the taste. As my circumstances are similar to how most lambs are killed in New Zealand, I believe this holds true for practically all lambs killed.
I actually would love to see technology that enables us to ensure that all lambs destined for the works, are born as ram lambs, for the simple reason they are ready to be killed weeks ahead of ewe lambs (this would be waste of time for me as a stud breeder, but be big benefit for a lot of commercial farmers).
The cynic in me does however wonder about those ram lambs killed through the winter season, which are considerably older and likely much more mature; as I can assure you I wouldn’t be eating them!