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Meat Quality

Program Leader

Professor Dave Pethick
Murdoch University
Tel: 08 9360 2246
Email –

To read about the program scroll down below 'Latest Updates'.

Summer 2013-14 update

The new resource flock slaughter and phenotyping program is underway with assays and data uploading for minerals, shear and intramuscular fat 50% complete.

The Meat Science/Genetics/AGBU group will be meeting to discuss further genetic analysis of the meat science traits in March, 2014.

The Special Edition in Meat Science has been completed and all of the special edition papers are downloadable from the Meat Science web site – Vol 96, Issue 2, Part B, February 2014.  Key information from the special edition papers is currently being distilled into a number of fact-sheets – the first on e-stimulation is now available on the Australian Meat Processor Corporation web site.

Supply chains

Carcase gradingThe Carometec-MLA Donor Company project for developing tools is progressing well with a new GR probe which includes electrical impedance to measure intramuscular fat, likely to be delivered to Murdoch University by the end of February, 2014. From here there will be initial proof of concept undertaken in collaboration with WAMMCO – assuming the new instrument passes the initial phase of testing, full scale calibration will be undertaken on resource flock animals initially from Katanning (WA) and then on those from Kirby (NSW).

The Lamb Supply Chain group met in Melbourne on 20-21st November to review R&D in three key areas (i) supplychain development and innovation; (ii) Industry feedback and benchmarking; and (iii) lean meat yield and eating quality systems to underpin MSA.

Specific Supplychain interactions:

  • Thomas Foods International (TFI) – a meeting between TFI and members of the Lamb Supplychain Group was undertaken on 14th November. Discussions included slaughter floor layouts required to accommodate new carcase grading tools being developed. David Rutley (Supplychain officer) is developing data for TFI to optimise carcase specifications so as to prepare new feedback systems using Livestock Data link.
  • JBS Australia – documentation is being developed for JBS to better summarise the value of lean meat yield and eating quality to JBS. This is based on the effects of the new breeding values and has also used the lamb value calculator. This work will be used to help underpin carcase specifications for the JBS ‘Great Southern’ lamb brands.
  • Forums – both JBS and TFI have expressed the desire to run two industry forums for each company in the first half of 2014 – the forums will be one day events with the CRC providing speakers on the topics of lean meat yield, eating quality and maternal productivity.


Spring 2013

Measuring meat science phenotypes
Slaughtering of the new resource flocks at Katanning and Kirby is now complete and laboratory analyses are underway.

Analyses of Meat Science traits by AGBU/UNE
A spreadsheet and data sets have been sent to the Animal Genetics and Breeding Unit (AGBU) for further genetic analysis of the meat science traits.

Lamb Supply Chain Group
The Lamb Supply Chain group met in Melbourne during September. Planning is progressing to develop a new strategic R&D plan for lamb. Visits were made to the Australian Lamb Company and a Coles feature store.

Specific Supply Chain interactions: Thomas Foods International (TFI) – Dr David Rutley has been appointed as the Supply Chain Officer. A meeting between TFI and members of the Lamb Supply Chain Group was undertaken in August. David brings very significant abilities, especially in meat science and data analysis skills.

Winter 2013

Measuring meat science phenotypes

Slaughtering of the new Resource Flocks at Katanning and Kirby is now well underway and data will be added to the existing Information Nucleus database to continue the improvement in genetic and genomic prediction accuracies.

Supply chains

The Carometec-MLA MDC project for developing carcase grading tools is now underway and the construction has started of a prototype GR probe, including electrical impedance for the measurement of both GR tissue depth and intramuscular fat.

Autumn 2013

Measuring meat science phenotypes - A meeting involving the genetics and meat science teams including AGBU and Sheep Genetics was organised during February to discuss further analysis of meat traits. Analyses will include the generation of sire solutions for all INF sires for many meat science traits including a full correlation matrix. These analyses will lead to a final list of consolidated breeding values for either potential commercialisation into ASBVs or for other research traits to be monitored with respect to how they are influenced by new indexes for eating quality and yield.

Lamb Supply Chain Group - Melissa Neal has been appointed as the new AMPC Lamb Supply Chain Officer. Melissa has been seconded from DPI Victoria.

Specific Supply chain interactions:

  • JBS  attended the Lamb Supply Chain Group meeting and made valuable contributions to the development of the lamb carcase calculator. Mark Inglis reported on the progress made by JBS regarding carcase grading, producer feedback and general data handling using MLA’s Livestock Data Link system.
  • Thomas Foods International (formally T&R) has committed to a joint appointment of a lamb supply chain officer with the CRC and this position has been advertised with an appointment expected to be made soon.
  • An engagement meeting was undertaken during February at the Sydney headquarters of one of the major supermarket chains. Discussions continue on the evolution of MSA lamb and also on new 'cut x cook' combinations that needed MSA testing so as they can be sold as MSA accredited.

Summer 2013

The process of collecting detailed meat data on all lambs slaughtered as part of the Information Nucleus program is continuing on schedule and due for completion by the end of June 2013. The results of the meat analysis are providing a number of new research findings and these will be published in a special edition of the prestigious "Meat Science" journal.

Supply chain and lean meat yield

The CRC has been working with AMPC and MLA to develop a project with a commercial company specialising in abattoir measurement systems to evaluate a new measurement system for estimating lean meat yield on carcases. Estimating lean meat yield has proven to be a very difficult parameter and the new approach offers an important step forward in being able to measure this important aspect of carcase production. There has also been progress in appointing a new Supply Chain Officer in collaboration with AMPC and DPI Victoria.

The two components that form the focus of the CRC supply chain project are better efficiency through improved lean meat yield and improved product quality.

Excessive fat represents inefficiencies for the production system as it requires considerably more feed to add a kilogram of fat than it does a kilogram of muscle. Similarly, in the processing, trimming excess fat represents a very costly and inefficient practice. With the right combination of ram selection (genetics) and the right management, there can be significant benefits for the producer and the processor. The CRC has made progress in identifying Research Breeding Values that will help direct selection for lean meat yield as well as measurement systems that will help to provide more accurate feedback to breeders and producers.

In a parallel project, MLA is engaging with a range of processors to evaluate specific genotypes through the production and processing pipeline in order to provide better information to processors, producers and breeders on the benefits of correct genetic selection.

The measurement of lean meat yield within plant is most accurately achieved using Viascan technology and the CRC has assisted in calibration of the Viascan for a wide range of carcases. As the Viascan technology is only available in a limited number of works, there has been extensive research into alternative measurement systems. GR fat combined with carcase weight provides an interim solution but the CRC research team, working with MLA, is confident of developing more accurate systems in the near future.

The recent development of genomic predictions based on DNA analysis will be of benefit for breeders and processors to identify rams with the genes required for high eating quality. The main parameters determining meat eating-quality are intramuscular fat and shear force. Both are very difficult to measure and it is most likely that future management of eating quality will set by ram selection for the supply chain rather than in-chain measurement.

Spring 2012

The last consignment of lambs for the 2011 drop was completed at Kirby Farm in August.  This now completes the abattoir component of the 5 year slaughter program.  There is some laboratory work from the 2010 and 2011 drop lambs left to do.  Bruce Hancock will continue in his role as Executive Officer of the Lamb Supply Chain group.

Three supply-chain officers will be placed (or maintained if already in place) within collaborating supply-chains to work with the Meat & Livestock Australia Innovation Managers and within the supply-chains to facilitate the adoption of CRC technologies (both genetic and non-genetic), and enhance the uptake of lean meat yield and eating quality systems.

Winter 2012

Measuring meat science phenotypes

One major activity has been the completion of scientific papers for the special edition in the journal of Meat Science. Also, Information Nucleus lamb kills for the final year of the measurement program are approximately 80% complete.

Biological understanding

This project has now been completed and a final report loaded into the CRC’s Centric project management system. Data associated with the new SNPs in the calpain/calpistatin axis are being trialled to see if they help improve the genomic prediction of shear force tenderness.

Supply chains

Lean meat yield measurement

A project has been submitted to AMPC, in collaboration with Carometec and Food Processing Equipment, to develop a new measurement system for fat depth and lean meat yield.

Supply chain partners

The CRC and MLA presented a series of papers at the annual AMPC conference in Sydney on 24/25th May (see below):

•           James Rowe (CEO, Sheep CRC): Sheep CRC Overview

•           Dave Pethick (Murdoch University): Eating quality of Australian lamb – current issues and future directions within supply chains

•           Alex Ball (Meat & Livestock Australia): Lean Meat Yield - measurement, genetic gains and connection to supply chains

•           Rob Banks (Meat & Livestock Australia): Information Nucleus - the value proposition for all of Industry, especially processors

This conference opportunity was invaluable to inform sheep processors of the CRC’s progress and plans for the Resource Flocks. A new development is the request from AMPC to explore the possibility of a ‘supply chain’ and information officer based with AMPC.

Autumn 2012

Measuring meat science phenotypes

Processing has been completed for the 2011 drop lambs from the Trangie and Cowra sites. More than half of the 2011 drop lambs have been processed from the Rutherglen, Struan and Katanning sites.  For the lambs from the Katanning site this has included CT scanning. No lambs have been processed as yet from the Armidale, Hamilton and Narrogin (Dorper) sites.

Shear force measurements have been completed for the 2010 drop lambs and data forwarded to sites for uploading. Freeze drying of samples has been completed for LCFA and IMF samples from 2010 drop lambs in preparation for long chain fatty acid (LCFA) and intramuscular fat (IMF) analyses. Consumer sensory analyses completed for 2010 drop INF lambs, 2009 drop yearlings and 2010 drop Dorper lambs.

Myoglobin assays have been completed (100% of samples) for 2009 drop lambs. ICDH, mineral and glycogen assays are continuing being 40%, 50% and 30% complete respectively for 2009 drop lambs.  Glycogen assays from 2009 drop are also continuing being 70% complete.

Biological understanding

This project has found the calpistatin gene region to contain SNPs which significantly influence the tenderness of lamb in all major breeds. These new SNPs can be measured directly or imputed from the standard 50K SNP chip and should improve the genomic prediction of shear force which until now has been problematical. There are also SNPs in the genes for the long chain Omega 3 biosynthetic pathway that have a significant association with intramuscular fat.

Lean meat yield and supply chains

Lean meat yield

Our plans to assess technologies for measuring lean meat yield are progressing.

Lamb Supply Chain Group

At its last meeting in February the group had discussions including a session aimed at improving genetics and supply chain efficiency. There were some limited opportunities identified for collaboration around the measurement of lean meat yield. These projects will occur outside the CRC and one is under way using DEXA technology with Graham Gardner. There was also a whole day work shop (the second undertaken) on the development of a ‘lamb futures’ concept – this concept has now reached a more realistic and workable plan that could see the lamb futures becoming a reality. The goal of lamb futures would be to help supply chains forward buy/sell at reduced risk.

Application of meat processing technologies

The Raman spectrophotometry project for predicting shear force has gained support from AMPC in the form of a PhD scholarship. The CRC will now hand this project over to AMPC and the supervisors.

Return to the Autumn e-Newsletter.

Summer 2012

The team responsible for collecting and analysing meat samples from the Information Nucleus flock continue to do a terrific job of collecting and analysing a huge number of samples. There is also good progress in analysing results and plans for another special edition publication.

We anticipate preparation of around 17 research papers defining new knowledge gained in the meat science area over the last two years. These papers are scheduled for publication by July 2012.

Many of the results from this research program are directly applicable to industry and the supply chain program is providing an effective way of ensuring rapid adoption.

There has been good progress in the meat biology project through the identification of a number of important SNPs that explain variation in meat quality – particularly tenderness. The Information Nucleus design team is now considering options for using this new information most effectively in conjunction with the existing 50k SNP product.

Return to the Summer e-newsletter

Autumn 2011

Measuring meat science phenotypes
Slaughtering and laboratory based phenotyping is progressing on schedule.

The following new research breeding values are being released: hot carcase weight, carcase eye muscle depth, carcase C fat, lean meat yield %, intramuscular fat and shear force.

New analysis of biochemical phenotypes, myoglobin and isocitrate dehydrogenase, shows clear relationships between these parameters and intramuscular fat. This underpins the hypothesis that muscle aerobicity is linked to eating quality.

The MLA Board has approved extra CRC funding to underpin further development of a Merino hogget product under a cuts based MSA system. By June 30 2011, 216 Merino hoggets (over 5 sites) from the follower flocks will be slaughtered and cuts collected for consumer evaluation.

Biology and production pathways for desired phenotypes

The first analysis of the consumer eating quality sensory data has been completed. 97 sires were evaluated for consumer scores of both topside and short loin. The range in consumer scores is sufficient to change the final rating (2*,3*,4*, 5*) of the meat meaning some sires can deliver 5* loins while others 4*. The data set will be doubled from INF slaughter lambs in 2011 before final conclusions are released.


Lean Meat Yield measurement
Plans are in place regarding in-plant lean meat yield technology measurement evaluation, including ultrasound, Hennessy probe and X rays – this work should be completed by 30 June, 2011. The Hennessy probe has been evaluated in 4 different abattoirs around Australia and to date the results for its ability to predict C fat and eye muscle depth do not look promising.

Further planning is underway with an abattoir supply company, a processor and the Australian Meat Processor Corporation to evaluate 2 technologies from a European company (Carometec) – this includes a new probe and the development of a cost effective modern vision system (somewhat like Viascan).

Ram Stock Take tool
Sheep Genetics, MLA and CRC have initiated discussions with WAMMCO to undertake an analysis of sires used by a selection of WAMMCO suppliers who entered their carcase competition, using the new Ram Stock Take tool.

Producer Demonstration Sites
The establishment of Producer Demonstration Sites focusing on new meat science traits (eating quality and lean meat yield) is under consideration.

Sheep Skin Scoring System
A project to develop a skin scoring system has been initiated and will consider carcase hygiene and skin value in relation to soiling.

Spring 2011

Biological understanding
The new SNP discovery project is now close to completion with some exciting new results. The research SNP panel has now confirmed at least 5 mutations in the calpain/calpistatin axis, which significantly influence tenderness. These SNP can either be measured directly or imputed from the 50K chip and should greatly strengthen our ability to genomically predict the shear force day 5 breeding value of a sire, which has previously been difficult.

Supply Chains

Lean meat yield measurement
The following technologies are being assessed for measuring lean meat yield in abattoirs:
1. Hennessy probe
2. Carometec fat-o-meter probe
3. Ultrasound 
4. Carcase Calculator – Chris Smith has completed the first draft of the carcase value calculator. This has been approved for further development, funded directly by MLA.

This further development phase will be done with input from a major processor and retailer.

Lamb Supply Chain Group
The Lamb Supply Chain Group continues to work with supply chains, processors , supermarkets and soft ware and hardware provision companies with an interest in increasing the accuracy of fat measurement and exploring other carcase measurement such as lean meat yield and feedback systems that will enhance supply chain efficiency. Projects include:

  • Sheep Genetics examination of sires used by a processor’s suppliers to determine the potential sire performance to supply different market segments.
  • MLA Producer Demonstration Sites to highlight new meat science traits.
  • Supply chain coordinators, to be funded on a joint 50:50 basis by the CRC and the processor. The appointees will be responsible for progressing technologies relating to eID tracking of live animals, RFID tracking of individual carcases and the implementation of an enhanced lean meat yield measurement linked to a producer feedback system within the supplychain.
  • Development of new lean meat yield specifications and feedback systems.
  • Development of a skin scoring system.

Winter 2011

Measuring meat science phenotypes
At the abattoir level, INF kills have progressed with most sites having just one kill left to do. Two Dorper kills (220 lambs) have been completed and two Yearling kills have been completed (Katanning and Kirby- 85 lambs) with 3 remaining (Struan, Rutherglen and Cowra).

Laboratory work has seen the 2009 drop shear force analyses completed and long chain fatty acid analysis commenced. Progress for ICDH/glycogen samples continues to be slow with completion expected in September.

Biological understanding
SNP assays of 750 2007 drop animals from Kirby and Katanning have been completed and data will be analysed to determine associations with tenderness and omega 3 phenotypes. The ability to impute the predictive effects of a lower density SNP panel will be tested on INF animals assayed with the 50K chip.

Our plans to assess technologies for measuring lean meat yield are progressing. The bulk of this work should be completed by June 30, 2011. These activities include the following:

  1. Hennessy probe: a final report has been submitted.
  2. Carometec fat-o-meter probe: this Danish company has expressed interest in marketing their fat-o-meter device within Australia. MLA will support the testing of the device at number of sites across Australia.
  3. Ultrasound: Phil green has been contracted through MLA to complete a second phase scoping experiment.


A national project is underway, funded by MLA and managed and delivered by the Sheep CRC partners, to develop a skin scoring system with JBS Australia, T&R Pastoral and WAMMCO. The system will consider carcase hygiene and skin value in relation to soiling and will develop an objective language for industry to use in communication and value based trading systems along the supply chain.

The Lamb Supply Chain Group continues to work with supply chains, processors , supermarkets and soft ware and hardware provision companies with an interest in increasing the accuracy of fat measurement and exploring other carcase measurement such as lean meat yield and feedback systems that will enhance supply chain efficiency.

Photo: Courtesy MLA
Photo: Courtesy MLA

About the Program

This program will develop and test in industry new technology to underpin the continuous improvement of high quality lamb and sheep meat for domestic and international consumers. The program aims to increase the retail meat yield per head while at the same time improving eating quality and the human nutritional value of the meat. This program will deliver:

i. A range of new meat quality phenotypes to underpin genetic parameter estimation and permit estimation of molecular breeding values (Project 3.1);
ii. An understanding of the biology of the phenotypes that contribute to desired industry outcomes such as increased lean meat yield, improved eating and meat quality (Project 3.2);

iii. Delivery of lean meat yield measures and an increased rate of lean meat yield adoption (Project 3.3); and
iv. Delivery of technologies for improving processing efficiency and quality (Project 3.4).

Business Case

The case is based on increased supplychain (on farm -> abattoir -> retail -> consumer) efficiencies associated with an increased lean meat yield in slaughter lambs (20% increase on current industry rate of increase in 40% of slaughter lambs). In combination, lamb quality (underpinned by eating quality & human health attributes) will be maintained such that the $ value of lamb meat will be maintained or increased.