Update October 2018
Maximising your returns is our priority. Working with the leading Scottish processor of lamb – Scotbeef – FarmStock drew up a three year project that aims to ensure that Farm Stock sourced lambs are extremely sought after by all the major retailers. The project is 100% funded by the Scottish Government’s Knowledge Transfer and Innovation Fund.
A lot of people don’t eat lamb and the downward trend in consumption is worrying. Cost is a factor, but eating quality and provenance are as important in lifting the demand for lamb. This project aims to establish blueprints that deliver lamb that tastes consistently excellent through the year and is produced in a manner that enhances that taste. Yes, psychologists have established that a positive view of how our food is produced improves our sense of taste.
What the project involves?
Physically the ideal M&S lamb grades R3L and weighs 16-20kg dwt. Eating quality must be consistently high, accepting that the eating characteristics of lamb will change through the season mainly because of age. Consequently three blueprints are being developed to cover;
- Early season (May through July).
- Main season (August to Christmas).
- Late season (January to the end of April).
Developing these blueprints involves three inter-related pieces of work;
- Studying the management practices of a number of members to identify the practices that result in the lambs M&S want.
- Looking at how farm and chain data can be better used to improve production.
- Exploring the options for moving the supply of lamb to better match consumer demand.
What we’ve found so far?
- Plenty of lambs of the right size, conformation and (low) fatness are available between July and December. But thereafter a lot of lambs are “out of spec” mainly because they are too big for M&S (and other supermarkets). More early season lambs are also needed, but cost of production relative to an unpredictable price is the more limiting factor here.
- The good news is that lamb is notable among meats for its good eating quality. Nevertheless, our trial work suggests that doing certain things will increase the likelihood of producing consistently tasty lamb. We are looking closely at how feeding in the month prior to slaughter affects taste, especially outwith the main season when forage crops and concentrates are widely used. And while overseas work suggests breed does not influence taste, the trial should help us confirm this finding under Scottish conditions.
- Good growth rates prior to slaughter are generally considered a positive. Of course, while lambs killed post Christmas (particularly hill breeds) will go through a long period of low or no growth, lambs targeted at the early market must grow fast. Does such variation in growth rates affect taste?
- New Zealand research warns that selecting tups solely for (high) growth rate and meat yield (ie, the amount of muscle relative to carcase weight) may reduce eating quality. The trial should help establish whether such a relationship exists under Scottish conditions.
- Animal health and welfare is important to M&S shoppers. So knowing and implementing best practice protocols on farm is essential. Minimal use of antibiotics is particularly important (link to guide on reducing antibiotics here).
- A lot of data is available on kill sheets. However, its value is not being realised thanks to the poor flow of kill data between the processor, farmer and FSS. Work is in hand to allow the necessary consents to improve this flow.
- Not only will the better flow of this data improve administration efficiency at Farm Stock, it will allow Farm Stock to provide data that members can use to benchmark their performance. The data should also help give Farm Stock an advantage in managing the flow of lambs through the season to meet customer’s demands.
- Perhaps more importantly, the trial points to how little data is collected and used on farm to guide management decision-making. Weighing lambs at certain stages of the year can provide invaluable feedback on feeding and health, yet few farmers weigh lambs other than to draw them (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b6xL3MxF_xM). Farmers that have invested significant sums in sophisticated electronic scales, readers and software are missing a trick, especially if we can get kill data easily downloadable into their systems.
- Finally, the project is exploring the options for manipulating the supply of lamb to better match demand. We are looking at how pricing could be used to move lamb out of the glut period. And also developing innovative ways of linking store lamb producers with specialist finishers.
If you have any questions about the project, or suggestions that could enhance it, please get in touch with Jonny Williams at the Farm Stock office by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org