‘Ordinary’ data holding back the lamb industry

The lamb industry has entered a new data-era as major investments into data collection by JBS Australia leads to greater analysis of compliance for producers, buyers and processors.
The lamb industry has entered a new data-era as major investments into data collection by JBS Australia leads to greater analysis of compliance for producers, buyers and processors.

LAMBS that have been bitten by dogs are being discounted heavily by meat processors, but until recently, producers would have been none the wiser about the cause of their slashed carcase weights. 

In the past two years, processors have been able to acquire more information from carcases than in the past 15 years combined, according to JBS supply chain manager Mark Inglis, leading to more accurate and usable feedback to producers.

“The biggest thing that is holding back the lamb industry - for both processor and producer - is around the quality of the feedback we have been getting,” Mr Inglis said during the Best Wool Best Lamb conference in Bendigo recently.

Most processor feedback is based on the Hot Standard Carcase Weight and palpation fat score, he said, with the palpation method only 20pc accurate.

“Pretty ordinary, isn’t it?” Mr Inglis said. 

“There are people in this room who have been making genetic decisions for the past 15 to 20 years based on an accuracy of that. Is that worrying? Absolutely.”

Measuring fat depth improved slightly with the use of the GR Knife, which was deemed 30pc accurate, while Viascan, which has since been abandoned by most processors in the Australian industry, is 45pc, he said.

Now with the introduction of dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) machines, which are reportedly 92pc accurate in assessing Lean Meat Yield (LMY), Mr Inglis said producers can expect accurate breakdowns of individual carcases soon.

“We haven’t had a measurement in the lamb industry as close to it before,” he said.

“It allows us to get a predicted LMY outcome for those carcases coming through.”

Identification of carcase contamination from grass seeds, worms and even dog bites has been helped by the use of dual x-ray absorptiometer (DEXA) machines at JBS’ Bordertown plant, in South Australia, in conjunction with independent Animal Health Australia inspectors.

“The first time we accessed this data, there were 617 cases of dog bites but I wasn’t getting that information back from our plants,” Mr Inglis said.  

“We end up cutting away those carcases (with dog bites), and legs are condemned because of it.”

Carcases impacted by dog bites are discounted because the meat surrounding the affected area is bruised, punctured and calcified, making it unusable.

“If a producer is expecting a 23kg (carcase), and comes back at 16kg, this can be the cause,” he said.

With the introduction of DEXA, Mr Inglis said pressure was now on the industry to develop an accurate intramuscular fat (IMF) measurement, to complement DEXA’s LMY assessment.

“It won’t be the saviour for the livestock industry or us (processors), all it does is measure bone, muscle and fat,” Mr Inglis said.

“We need to be looking at eating quality in line with IMF, if we don’t, we will end up like New Zealand with absolutely fantastic specification lamb but eat like s***. 

“We only need four to six per cent IMF, which is bugger all… but Sheep CRC (Australian Sheep Industry Co-operative Research Centre) has shown the current flock sits at less than 4pc, which is a worrying trend.”

But why is an accurate LMY reading important?

MLA managing director Richard Norton explained a DEXA analysis on two four score lamb carcases weighing 23kg and 23.6kg, produced saleable meat yield of 48pc and 56, respectively.

“Both these carcases cost the same amount of money to process - one is generating a better return, $143 verse $173 of saleable meat,” Mr Norton said.

Further advancements are being explored by Murdoch University, who are researching an algorithm which converts DEXA data into a saleable meat breakdown by cut.

“Producers will be able to know the retail value of their carcases,” Mr Norton said.

The benefits of the LMY data, combined with accurate eating quality, would help market hoggets and reduced discounting of two-teeth Merino lambs.

“There is a branding story there in lamb,” Mr Norton said.

“You will see a lot more yearling lambs being branded to consumer domestically in Australia and then globally. It is about increasing the value of a hogget today.”​

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