Meat & Livestock News

Modern Merino Producers Advocate for Equitable Treatment of Their Lambs


  • Merino breeders call for industry-wide adoption of eating quality and carcass assessment to ensure fair pricing for their lamb carcasses.
  • Despite advancements in Merino genetics producing dual-purpose breeds with superior carcasses, current market practices often undervalue them based on outdated perceptions.
  • The industry is moving towards more equitable treatment of Merino lambs, with some processors beginning to recognize their improved quality through better grading systems.

In an industry where the quality of lamb carcasses is paramount, Merino breeders are making a stand for their livestock. The Greener Cattle Initiative, led by the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research and the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, is spearheading this change with its second call for research proposals.

This initiative seeks scalable solutions to reduce methane emissions from cattle, a significant contributor to greenhouse gases. With a funding cap of $5 million, the project aims to explore innovative methane mitigation technologies and their long-term benefits on animal health and farm efficiency. In 2023, the initiative awarded over $5 million to three leading researchers, marking a significant step towards the dairy and beef sectors’ sustainability goals.

Richard Currie, a wool and lamb producer from the Casterton district, voices a common frustration among Merino breeders. Despite producing Merinos with high-quality carcasses, breeders feel they are compensated based on outdated perceptions of the breed. Currie highlights the discrepancy in the industry, questioning why Merino lamb producers are not rewarded for meat eating quality as in the beef sector.

The industry’s slow adoption of Meat Standards Australia carcass grading in lamb processing exacerbates this issue. However, research indicates that Merinos, given proper nutrition and finishing, can match or exceed the intramuscular fat concentration of other breeds, debunking myths about their meat quality.

Murdoch University’s Professor David Pethick’s research underscores that Merino lambs, with appropriate pre-slaughter management, can offer eating quality on par with other breeds. This finding suggests a need for direct-to-slaughter routes for Merinos to avoid stress-related quality issues.

The call for processor education on modern Merinos is loud. Breeders like Currie believe that recognizing carcass traits in Merinos and compensating accordingly would encourage producers to focus more on these qualities.

Currently, Merino lambs face a 20-30 cents per kilogram discount compared to crossbred lambs, despite many meeting trade and heavy lamb categories. This discrepancy is attributed to perceived lower lean meat yields, particularly in the legs, necessitating further processing.

Processors acknowledge the strides Merinos have made in improving lamb carcasses through genetic selection and management. Yet, they also point to the higher value of wool and skins from Merinos, suggesting a balance in overall value. Innovations in reproduction have seen some flocks achieve up to 130% lamb marking rates, indicating significant progress.

Breeders like Tom Silcock and Ricky Luhrs express frustration over the lack of recognition for quality Merino genetics in the processing trade. Luhrs, participating in the 2024 LambEx AMPC Feedlot Carcase Competition, hopes for a shift in perception following the event, which will grade lambs on lean meat yield, intramuscular fat, and eating quality.

Anthony Close, a Merino breeder, questions the rationale behind the discounting of quality Merino lamb carcasses, advocating for payment based on delivered quality rather than breed.

He commends processors like Gundagai Meat Processors for their fair grading practices based on carcass weight, lean meat yield, and intramuscular fat, which consider eating quality traits.

As the industry evolves, there’s optimism for a future where Merinos are appreciated for their carcass traits, irrespective of breed. This shift towards equitable treatment could pave the way for Merino lambs to be valued on par with their crossbred counterparts, reflecting the modern Merino’s true quality and potential.