Waidale Rams

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Saturday, January 20, 2018

Headwaters should release the findings on intramuscular fat in lambs and everything else for that matter!!!

 I have just read another puff piece about Headwaters sheep. It was about Tim Burdon from Mt Burke Station at Central Otago farming Headwaters sheep. Perhaps these sheep are every bit as good as Mr Burdon claims, but I would like people to consider the following.

The research undertaken by Headwaters and the Alliance Group, under the umbrella of a Primary Growth Partnership project between the government and industry, claims that Headwaters lambs' intramuscular fat averaged above three per cent compared to other breeds at 1%”. It also claims “omega 3 levels are typically three times those of average lambs”.

As I understand it, none of this research has been peer-reviewed by an independent entity. Myself and others have been refused access to the research and its findings. Credibility would be enhanced by releasing all the research to interested parties. It would be nice to know what lambs and what breeds Headwaters is comparing its lambs with what breeds, what sample size, as the cynic in me wonders if they are comparing their lambs with the worst possible sample.

If their research was released, then it might counter what I have been told more than once, that intramuscular fat has no bearing on taste for the majority of lambs killed. They are simply not old enough to lay down enough intramuscular fat to have an effect on taste. It does have a bearing on older animals killed to be eaten, and it's important in cattle, but they are killed at an older age. If this research was released, then it could be peer-reviewed to see if intramuscular fat was a red herring or was something to be concerned about.

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We are told all Headwaters lambs are finished on chicory (and clover I believe) for a month before being killed. In the article I read, it states this "boosts levels of omega 3 and intramuscular fat." Again the cynic in me questions how much of this is a direct consequence of being finished on these crops and nothing to do with genetics. Does the data they have collated distinguish between those finished on these crops and those not? Can they genuinely apportion any gain to genetics as opposed to merely lambs being finished as they should be?

As I have said many times, the meat companies should pay a premium for lambs finished correctly, then you would get better tasting lambs. You don't need years of research to work that one out.

In the article in question it states "the PGP calculated premiums of 30 per cent to 50 per cent in prices for Omega Lamb but Tate [the project manager] said actual returns exceeded that. He declined to give details.

I believe Alliance pays them a 10 cents per kilogramme premium for their lambs, which is primarily based on supply of numbers, not fantastic tasting lamb. But again Alliance won't disclose what it's paying. At 10c/kg, this equates to currently perhaps a one per cent premium. I'm not sure where the rest comes from. I, like many shareholders, aren't impressed with Alliance's policy in this regard, and I know that they are losing lambs because of this and the price they are paying.

Remember these sheep are merely composites. Composites have been around for decades now. Many farmers started off with a good purebred flock, did well for five or six years, by putting composites over them. But how many farmers do you know 10 years down the track that are still using them? Not many, as problems often compound and production generally starts to decline the further you get into it.

Finally, Mr Burdon's claim about foraging is excellent, but I am pretty sure the proliferation of dairying forcing sheep onto the less productive country has had the same effect on all breeds, in particular, romneys. I think a good flock of romneys would be equally as good as these composites in this regard.

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