Of the lamb world

Central Queensland News - - RURAL WEEKLY -

As part of the meat qual­ity side of the pro­gram, groups of eight to 10 com­mer­cial ewes are joined to a ram with the off­spring grown out and sent to Thomas Foods In­ter­na­tional at Tam­worth for pro­cess­ing.

Here, both loins are re­moved, one is tested for meat qual­ity traits such as mar­bling (Tom has worked with the Uni­ver­sity of New Eng­land to de­velop an IMF grad­ing score for lamb), sheer force and ten­der­ness, and the other used for con­sumer taste test­ing.

“Re­ally it is a process of get­ting con­sumer data, mar­bling data and then look­ing for that one sire that pops out the top and can do things oth­ers can’t... an ab­so­lute out­lier,” Tom said.

“The an­gus and wagyu in­dus­tries were built off out­liers... all of a sud­den New De­sign 036 popped up and An­gus went up an­other level, and the wagyu in­dus­try is based on a few bulls from which pro­duc­ers can mar­ket cat­tle. This will be no dif­fer­ent.”

TIGHT GENES

THE chal­lenge for the Bulls, how­ever, has been to in­crease eat­ing qual­ity with­out sac­ri­fic­ing ma­ter­nal traits such as fer­til­ity be­cause, as Tom points out, “at the end of the day you still want them to have a heap of lambs that grow quickly”.

He said it had also proved dif­fi­cult to find Hamp­shire Downs with com­mer­cially rel­e­vant growth, and mar­bling.

“We have found some rams with good IMF but they are 6kg be­hind on wean­ing weight,” he said. At Kin­ross, the bulk of the Hamp­shire Down flock lambs in June with ewe lambs fol­low­ing in Au­gust.

All rams are ge­nomic tested at lamb mark­ing with this in­for­ma­tion used to pre­dict mar­bling traits.

Tom said with 300-400 Kin­ross rams ex­pected to be born next year ge­nomic work was par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant be­cause “we want to be able to screen as quickly as pos­si­ble which ones are go­ing to per­form”.

Seventy one of the top 100 rams for mar­bling on the Sheep Ge­net­ics Aus­tralia data­base are Kin­ross rams, from a to­tal pool of 45,000.

Tom cited weight, age and ge­net­ics as the three big­gest de­ter­mi­nants of mar­bling and said a lot of work has been done with clients on de­ter­min­ing best feed types, and slaugh­ter ages and weights for lambs.

The Bulls are cur­rently grow­ing the Hamp­shire Down-sired lambs they are us­ing for re­search pur­poses out to 30-35kg car­cass weight on a com­bi­na­tion of grass, roughages and grain.

“But the bet­ter we get with the ge­net­ics, the less im­por­tant the feed will be­come,” he said.

“If you look at an­gus cat­tle, as they are get­ting the ge­net­ics bet­ter the cat­tle are per­form­ing as well off grass as they used to do off 200 days of grain.”

Tom said the aim wasn’t to have their own lamb prod­uct but to be “a re­search brand in essence”.

“That is one thing we de­cided from the start... all we want to be able to do is do the ge­netic re­search and fa­cil­i­tate our clients,” he said.

“Our client base will pro­duce 800,000 lambs this year so we have the scale to be able to flick a switch and change big whacks of lambs (to adapt to chang­ing con­sumer de­mand).”

TASTE TEST

NOW the wait be­gins to see if con­sumers put their money where their mouths are. And the early signs are promis­ing.

The Bulls have worked closely with Meat and Live­stock Aus­tralia mar­ket re­search data, which sug­gests con­sumers in ex­port mar­kets such as Ja­pan are will­ing to pay al­most three times the aver­age price of lamb for “five-star” prod­uct.

Aus­tralians are will­ing to fork out two and a half times the aver­age. Tom said while only 4-5 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion could pay such a pre­mium, in Aus­tralia that still equated to more than one mil­lion peo­ple. Some Kin­ross Sta­tion prod­uct has been sold through the Meat­smith spe­cialty butcher chain in Mel­bourne and next year, “while a lot of it is still R&D”, they plan to have prod­uct in China, Ja­pan as well as top-end Mel­bourne and Syd­ney mar­kets. Tom said con­sumer trends were chang­ing, with peo­ple choos­ing to re­duce their meat in­take dur­ing the week. But come the week­end “when they want to splurge”, they were seek­ing some­thing “that is off the charts”.

“And they want to pay for it – we see that is where we’ve got to be,” he said.

“We’re not go­ing to do it cheap like chicken. Lamb re­tails four times the price of chicken – that’s the re­al­ity.”

Tom said there were also op­por­tu­ni­ties for the Hamp­shire Down from a “breed brand­ing” per­spec­tive.

“When you men­tion the word wagyu or an­gus or even here­ford... you know what you think of,” he said.

“Wagyu re­tails about 29 per cent higher than an­gus.

“There is an op­por­tu­nity to use breed brand­ing more in sheep. The Hamp­shires of­fer po­ten­tial for that... ev­ery­one loves a rare breed and they are more con­sis­tent to say the main­stream Dorset and White Suf­folk.” It is Lambpro’s larger clients – “the big play­ers in the in­dus­try... the ones that can see the global con­text of meat” – that are sit­ting up and tak­ing no­tice of the Bulls.

“The feed­back so far is good... they can see lamb go­ing down the brand­ing path,” said Tom, who will of­fer 200 Hamp­shire Down rams for sale this year, in­clud­ing 100 at Lambpro’s on-prop­erty auc­tion next month (where for the first time mar­bling es­ti­mated breed­ing val­ues will be of­fered on all ma­ter­nal sale rams).

“This is re­ally about po­si­tion­ing where our clients want to be in five years’ time.”

On the tip of ev­ery­one’s lips.

PHO­TOS: YURI KOUZMI

MAK­ING CHANGE: Tom Bull, with his kids Hamish, 10, Hat­tie, 8, Ed­die, 6, run Lambpro.

Tom, Hamish, Hat­tie and Ed­die on the farm.

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