SCA is determining whether the lamb definition should be changed to allow the eruption of permanent incisors, similar to New Zealand's standards.

Industry bites into lamb term

THE cutting of its first permanent tooth has determined the value of lamb for decades, but peak sheep and meat bodies are campaigning to see this changed.

Paul McGorman had 1000 lambs discounted to hoggets last year, slicing his returns by nearly 200 cents a kilogram.

Currently, young sheep which cut their first permanent teeth are instantly downgraded to hoggets, costing producers and processors significantly.

The McGorman family’s Thornby farm, near Sanderston in South Australia’s Murray Mallee, finish about 40,000 lambs annually, feeding them for about 70 days until they reach about 27 kilograms carcase weight.

“We would be able to get those old-season lambs that are lagging to the finishing point so they’re not sold underdone and lacking the right level of fat across the carcase,” Mr McGorman said.

Alex, Oscar and Paul McGorman, "Thornby", Sanderston, South Australia, believe redefining the lamb term will result in a more consistent Australian product.

A review into the country’s lamb classification is heating up with Sheepmeat Council of Australia (SCA) firing the starting gun, announcing potential changes to the lamb definition was now open to public consultation.

The changes to the language could see Australia adopt New Zealand’s definition, which refers to lamb under 12 months old and allows two teeth, not in wear, before downgrading the lamb to hogget.

“The lambs that are growing to hoggets generally come off stations because it’s harder to manage the time of joining and mustering because of the scale of the operations,” he said.

As it is now, a lamb that has an erupted tooth can be discounted from 560c/kg to 380c/kg, equivalent to the price paid for mutton.

He said the change could be used as a management tool to allow producers to run a slightly older lamb and get the maximum carcase weight out of those animals.

“From July onwards, every lamb that goes out of our feedlot we check their mouths so we will adjust our reference point and be able to sell more well-finished lambs even if they have cut teeth,” he said.

Redefining lamb would be a “game changer” for Australia’s competitiveness and was a move that was “hard to knock”.  

“This will help globally by putting us on an even playing field with NZ,” he said.

Mr McGorman said changes to the definition of lamb would be most effective if the entire supply chain was honest.

He said the change could put pressure on local processors to abide by the same stringent regulations for classifying lamb as exporters do and prevent hoggets being sold as lamb in Australia.

 Australian Lamb Company livestock manager Ben Verrall said receiving hoggets was a “nuisance value”.

“This will allow lambs to hit the desired weight range, still be marketed as lambs and not have that 48-hour window where lambs cut their teeth and lose over 50 per cent of their value,” Mr Verall said.

“We don’t want hoggets because we don’t market hoggets. When we kill 6000 lambs a day and 70 are hoggets. We don’t have a place for them so we are then short 70 carcases, or 140 lamb racks a day.”​

Australian Meat Industry Council (AMIC) chief executive Patrick Hutchinson supports the proposed change and said research had shown no noticeable difference in meat quality between the time immediately prior to permanent incisor eruption and immediately afterwards.

Feedback will be considered in February, 2018. 

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