Quality-based sheep meat value chains

Program Leader

Professor David Pethick
Murdoch University, Murdoch (WA)
Tel: 08 9360 2246
Email: d.pethick@murdoch.edu.au

To read the latest Program updates click here.

About the Program

Research based on the CRC’s Information Nucleus program has quantified critical control points that determine eating quality and meat yield of different cuts from individual carcases. Understanding the significant effects of genetics on yield and eating quality has led to new breeding values for intramuscular fat (influencing juiciness and flavour), shear-force (a measure of tenderness) and carcase lean meat yield.

Both yield and quality have a profound effect on profitability at every stage in the supply chain.  Additional research is needed to develop a measurement and knowledge system that can be used as the basis for abattoir grading of carcases to underpin value-based trading in sheepmeat supply chains. It is estimated that around 30% of carcases fail to meet optimal specifications and this results in losses through wastage – time spent trimming excess fat and lower prices for downgraded carcases.  These costs are currently absorbed across the full supply chain.

Over the past 15 years there has been little investment in technologies for measuring carcase yield and the CRC’s research has highlighted the inadequacy of existing systems. The CRC’s meat science research findings have re-kindled industry’s desire to move to value-based trading and to develop new measurement technologies to make this possible. Accordingly the Australian Meat Processors Corporation (AMPC) and Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA), working with the CRC meat science researchers, have initiated projects with a number of companies undertaking development of carcase grading technologies. For example the Danish company, Carometec, is developing a prototype sheep carcase hyperspectral camera for imaging the cut surface to determine intramuscular fat. Scotts Technology has also re-designed their x-ray driven cutting system in to a dual x-ray system to accurately measure lean meat yield.  Machine-based grading of individual carcases at line speed to predict value, based on cuts of meat and their eating quality, will be a transformational development for the sheep industry. 

The methods for predicting quality and yield will be developed into a new cuts-based Meat Standards Australia (MSA) grading system.  The credibility of MSA-certification will be important in gaining widespread acceptance.

A new cuts-based grading and MSA certification for sheepmeat will have implications beyond the lamb industry.  The research will be extended to establish a new science-based system for grading cuts from larger lean carcases (>25kg) that currently fall outside lamb specifications, particularly for some domestic markets, and for grading cuts of yearling Merino carcases that are currently classified as ‘mutton’.

Implementation will initially occur through commercial scale trials in Participant supply chains with benefits resulting from a higher proportion of carcases conforming with processor/retail specifications, better feedback of grading information to breeders and producers and less wastage through trimming excess fat.  Improved value of larger carcases and yearling Merinos that are currently under-valued in terms of consumer assessment of eating quality will also deliver benefits for the supply chains.

Program Structure

The program is organised into two parts:

  • R2.1:  ‘New meat grading tools’ focuses on calibration and implementation of a new cuts-based grading system for lambs.
  • R2.2:  ‘New production definition’ is designed to extend the use of the new cuts-based grading system for use in grading non-lamb carcases such as yearling carcases and large lambs >25kg.

Both parts contribute to improved efficiencies in the supply chains associated with this Program as described in U2.1 for delivery of new quality based sheepmeat value chains. 


Specific objectives of the Program are summarised as follows:

  1. Develop prediction algorithms for consumer based eating quality and lean meat yield (by muscle region) using both genetic and phenotypic (carcase grading) information residing in the Information Nucleus data base of approximately 10,000 lambs with full genetic and phenotypic information. This will be undertaken in close collaboration with the genetics team in Program 3 and include the development of genomic predictions for consumer based eating quality.
  2. Develop and calibrate at least 2 new machine based carcase grading tools with final validation in at collaborating lamb processing plants (= at least 50% of the national lamb slaughter) using established industry resource flocks.
  3. Develop a commercial cuts based Meat Standards Australia lamb carcase grading model (MSA Sheep meats) that predicts the eating quality (fail 2*, good every day 3*, better than every day 4*, premium 5*) of up to 4 cut x cook combinations from the carcase.
  4. Provide flexible decision support information to translate carcase grading and genetic prediction into carcase and/or genetic specifications that will underpin company (processor and retail) brands and their value.
  5. Develop an industry wide standard for managing and auditing carcase grading.
  6. Develop feedback systems to lamb producers using Meat & Livestock Australia’s Livestock Data Link and MSA program (www.mla.com.au).
  7. Yearling Merino production system with slaughter at 18 months to 2 years of age providing a combination of income from wool and meat.
  8. Lamb carcases > 25 kg that are being produced in increasing numbers associated with genetic improvement for growth rate, carcase weight and leanness.


The Program will deliver a measurement and feedback system to underpin value-based trading.  A target of 10% of lambs slaughtered moving from ‘outside’ to ‘within’ specifications is valued at between 20c and 50c/kg (carcase weight) for producers and 50c/kg for processors.  Use of a cuts-based grading system will extend MSA-grading to value larger carcase and yearling Merino carcases according to consumer-defined eating quality.  The benefits from these changes will be reduced processing costs ($0.16/kg carcase) and increased value of yearling Merino carcases by an estimated $21.60 per carcase compared to current value if graded as ‘mutton’.  The additional costs of value-based trading and meeting specifications include cost of abattoir measurement and feedback systems ($0.25/head) additional on-farm monitoring ($0.85/head) and additional feed costs to finish 1/3 of yearling Merinos (average of $6.93/head). There will also be additional costs of preparing specialised cuts of larger carcases ($1.10/hd). Through objective grading of carcases in at least one abattoir, benefits start in year 2 for processors and year 3 for producers.  Benefits from cuts-based grading for yearling Merino and larger leaner lamb carcases will start in year 3 and new delicatessen-style products will start in year 4.

AMPC, MLA and Sheep CRC Fact Sheets

The CRC Meat Science Program aims to develop new technology and knowledge to underpin lean meat yield improvement of high quality lamb and sheep meat for domestic and international consumers. A series of fact sheets have been developed by Australian Meat Processing Corporation (AMPC), Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA)  and the Sheep CRC.

To download these fact sheets click here.


Practical Wisdom Notes / Fact Sheets

PW3.1 Quality Sheepmeat Series

In this series:

  1. Achieving target pH and temperature declines to improve meat quality

  2. Bone growth and selection for muscling

  3. On-farm impacts on meat eating quality

  4. Growth & carcase characteristics of the major sheep breeds in Australia

  5. Selection for growth & lean meat yield

  6. Taking the mutton out of lamb

  7. Reducing dehydration in slaughter lambs

  8. Achieving a brilliant finish to your lambs

  9. Merinos can deliver

  10. Electrical stimulation for improved eating quality

  11. Meat colour and shelf life

PW3.2 Meat Science & consumer eating quality

In this series:

  1. Achieving a brilliant finish to your lambs
  2. Achieving target pH and temperature declines to improve meat quality
  3. Bone growth and selection for muscling
  4. Intramuscular fat: The key to maintaining eating quality while improving lean meat yield
  5. Electrical stimulation for improved eating quality
  6. Meat colour and shelf life
  7. Optimising breeding objectives for current and future markets

Technical notes:

  1. Lamb nutritional value
  2. Lamb weight and growth rate
  3. Lamb eating quality
  4. New breeding values for yield and eating quality

Products & Training Resources


Compact Shoulder Roast

Lean meat yield manual

New cuts for larger lambs

New cuts for larger lambs

The Nutritive Value and Eating Quality of Australian lamb cuts

Utilising heavy lamb carcases

News Releases

MERINOSELECT now mainstream practice and growing fast
Use of the objective genetic assessment tool, Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs), has grown so rapidly in the Merino industry in the last five years that close to 50% of all Merino rams are now sold by studs that are members of MERINOSELECT. Recent analysis by the Cooperative Research Centre for Sheep Industry Innovation (Sheep CRC) reveals that studs in MERINOSELECT now provide around half of the Merino rams used by... Click Here To Read Full Article » https://www.sheepcrc.org.au/information/news/merinoselect-now-mainstream-practice-and-growing-fast-02-02-2018.php
Sheepmeat research brings MSA Mark II a step closer
The sheepmeat industry has taken major steps forward towards delivering a meat quality grading system that can cater for individual animal assessment, thanks to the combination of results from a series of research projects. Click Here To Read Full Article » https://www.sheepcrc.org.au/information/news/sheepmeat-research-brings-msa-mark-ii-a-step-closer-20-12-2017.php
DNA Flock Profile cements the foundations for new flock
Developing a flock with the right mix of genetics can take generations to perfect, but DNA testing has put Geelong sheep and wool producer Jack Briscoe on the fast track to success. Mr Briscoe is only a year into breeding his own Merino flock after branching out from his sheep contracting business by cobbling together a mixture of 800 home-bred and yard-bought ewes as his breeding base. Click Here To Read Full Article » https://www.sheepcrc.org.au/information/news/dna-flock-profile-cements-the-foundations-for-new-flock-28-11-2017.php
Science in plain English the challenge for meat industry postgrads
The next generation of leading meat industry researchers are armed with the knack of translating complicated science into everyday language, following an industry training workshop last week. Some 24 post-graduate researchers sponsored by the Sheep CRC, Meat & Livestock Australia and Australian Pork Limited, converged in Sydney for a week-long professional development course, which featured two-days of intensive... Click Here To Read Full Article » https://www.sheepcrc.org.au/information/news/science-in-plain-english-the-challenge-for-meat-industry-postgrads-14-11-2017.php
Dramatic increase in early season searches on RamSelect
Inquiry for rams through RamSelect has never been stronger with a dramatic increase in the number of buyers searching the site so far this season compared to last year. More than 1129 ram searches were conducted on RamSelect during July, compared to just 154 at the same time last year. Click Here To Read Full Article » https://www.sheepcrc.org.au/information/news/dramatic-increase-in-early-season-searches-on-ramselect-22-08-2017.php
To see your livestock’s future, just ASKBILL – new app live from Monday
Sheep producers and farm advisers are set to be wowed by the predictive power of the Sheep CRC’s latest flock-management app, ASKBILL, which will be released to industry on Monday. The web-based app, www.askbill.com.au, has been designed to draw on information generated by biophysical models that use daily downloads of climate data and forecasts to provide estimates for individual farms of the risk of flystrike and... Click Here To Read Full Article » https://www.sheepcrc.org.au/information/news/to-see-your-livestocks-future-just-askbill-new-app-live-from-monday-16-05-2017.php
New insights to deliver custom-fitted lamb exports for US and China
Lamb eating quality trials have identified new opportunities to grow the valuable Chinese and United States markets, with the consumer insights to enable the sheepmeat value chain to better address quality and price demands. The USA and China are two of Australia’s strongest sheepmeat export markets, but until now insights into consumer perceptions of Australian sheepmeat have been limited. Click Here To Read Full Article » https://www.sheepcrc.org.au/information/news/new-insights-to-deliver-customfitted-lamb-exports-for-us-and-china-04-05-2017.php
Is long-haul shipping affecting the eating quality of Aussie lamb exports?
Sheepmeat researchers are tackling the problem of what impact long-haul shipping routes have on eating quality, with a new series of consumer trials planned for the United States. Following feedback from American consumers that Australian lamb has a ‘gamey’ flavour, Murdoch University post-graduate researcher Maddison Corlett is examining whether this is true and the possible causes of this perception. Click Here To Read Full Article » https://www.sheepcrc.org.au/information/news/is-longhaul-shipping-affecting-the-eating-quality-of-aussie-lamb-exports-03-04-2017.php
DNA Parentage raises the bar for ASBV accuracies
DNA Parentage testing of progeny from multiple sire mating groups significantly improves the accuracy of breeding values associated with their bloodlines, a new trial has found. A genomic validation trial conducted in conjunction with Australian Wool Innovation, Sally Martin Consulting, Moses & Son, and Bluechip Livestock, used Sheep CRC DNA tests to identify parentage of the progeny of 300 ewes that had been joined in a... Click Here To Read Full Article » https://www.sheepcrc.org.au/information/news/dna-parentage-raises-the-bar-for-asbv-accuracies-27-03-2017.php
RamSelect drives better buying decisions at Gates Performance Genetics
Ram buyers have never had more information at their fingertips to identify the right genetics for their individual needs, according to New England stud breeder Rick Gates, whose composite Maternal and White Suffolk rams sold to a top of $1950 last week. Mr Gates, of Gates Performance Genetics, listed his sale catalogues on the RamSelect Plus app to ensure potential buyers could find exactly the right ram for their grazing... Click Here To Read Full Article » https://www.sheepcrc.org.au/information/news/ramselect-drives-better-buying-decisions-at-gates-performance-genetics-28-02-2017.php
Click Here To Read More News Articles »

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