A key issue with Canadian lamb is the lack of homogeneity among lamb carcasses, resulting in inconsistent size of meat cuts. This is a challenge for retailers and restaurants as they strive to offer a consistent quality product to their customers.
This challenge could be solved, in part, with an improved carcass evaluation system, something Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada researcher Manuel Juárez and his team is hoping to help create.
“Alberta’s current lamb market consists mostly of small- and medium-size flocks and a wide diversity of breeds,” said Juárez. “Producers are looking for more uniform and reliable ways of evaluating carcasses as a basis for reliable economic incentives for high-quality carcasses. We hope that this research will help build that capacity. The industry needs new tools to assist Alberta’s sheep producers, processors, and retailers to fill more of the growing demand for high-quality lamb meat, both domestically and internationally.”
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The researchers are using two technologies to evaluate variability in carcasses and meat quality — Dual Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry (DEXA) and Near Infrared Reflectance Spectroscopy (NIRS). Both provide quick and accurate estimations of a carcass, and do not damage it.
The research team will also use that benchmark information to establish relationships between production factors, processing systems, and carcass quality parameters. DEXA can also estimate bone density to determine age, which can be an important parameter for high-value market definition of ‘lamb.’
“We know that this is just the beginning, but once carcass quality standards are established, lamb producers will have more information on their product that they can use for on-farm genetic selection and lamb feeding,” said Juárez. “Being able to select animals and manage them to produce quality lamb should help encourage this industry’s growth.”
The research is being supported by Alberta Lamb Producers, Sungold Specialty Meats, Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development, and the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency (ALMA).
This project is another example of the lamb industry moving in the right direction, said ALMA president and CEO Gordon Cove.
“The lamb industry has shown a commitment to traceability, so establishing improved carcass assessment technologies is another step forward,” he said.