Research shows good eating quality and wool is possible

NEW South Wales research has shown Merino production traits seem to have little to no influence on the eating quality traits of lamb, indicating superior wool and eating quality can co-exist in sheep.

According to NSW Department of Primary Industries research scientist Dr Suzanne Mortimer it’s possible to breed animals wih superior eating and wool quality.

Dr Mortimer said eating quality is becoming more important in meat production from crossbred lamb production and production of Merino lamb meat, so it’s important to understand how the level of eating quality can be improved through selection.

However, many producers have wondered if selecting for eating quality traits could impact on the quality and quantity of wool production.

“To answer this, we designed a research project that aims to provide an early estimate of the genetic impact of selecting on breeding values for production traits of Merinos on the eating quality of lamb,” she said.

“If that relationship was significant, then that would tell us that by changing the breeding value of a production trait by one unit, then we’ll expect to get a significant change in eating quality traits.”

Dr Mortimer said the study involved an exploration into the relationship between eating quality traits and sire breeding values.

“For the eating quality traits, there are two types that we looked at: firstly, intramuscular fat, which is a predictor of juiciness, tenderness, and overall liking of a meat cut, and shear force, which is a measure of meat tenderness based on a machine test.

“We then looked at sensory eating quality traits which are traits that are actually assessed by a consumer taste panel who taste and score a range of lamb cuts,” Dr Mortimer said.

The DPI led study was co-funded through the Meat & Livestock Australia Donor Company using Australian Wool Innovation funded Merino Lifetime Productivity project wethers.

From this study, Dr Mortimer said they found no significant relationships between eating quality traits and production breeding values.

“This means the Merino production traits seem to have little to no influence on the eating quality traits of lamb,” she said.

“So, if we select to improve say yearling clean fleece weight, we’re expecting no change in any of the eating quality traits.

“Interestingly, these results are consistent across three different cuts of Merino lamb meat.”

Dr Mortimer presented her findings at the Association for the Advancement of Animal Breeding and Genetics conference in July.