The CAT scan search for the perfect lamb chop

16 May, 2012, NSJ

Australians love their lamb, but health-conscious meat-eaters are looking to leaner lamb chops for the dining table.

Now farmers have a new tool to help them choose sheep most likely to produce the lamb people want – and it all started with a machine that has transformed medical testing, the CAT scanner.

CAT scanning lamb carcasses

PhD student Fiona Anderson, from Western Australia’s Murdoch University, used the CAT scanner to check 2000 lamb carcases, to accurately work out how much muscle, fat and bone they have.

The result is a new way to identify the sheep most likely to breed the lambs that Australian consumers want, juicy and lean.

“We have so far scanned over 2000 lamb carcasses here at the Murdoch University and the University of New England in Armidale,” says Dr Anderson.

“We then used this information to see which of the current selection criteria (Australian Sheep Breeding Values) – used by farmers most accurately selects parents that produce the highest yielding lambs.”


Preliminary results suggest farmers can produce larger and leaner loin chops from their lambs by selecting for the trait ‘post-weaning eye muscle depth’ (the PEMD – breeding value). Lamb carcasses bred from top rams for this breeding value had greater lean meat yield and a redistribution of muscle from the lower priced forequarter region to the higher priced saddle region.

“Obviously this is good for the farmer and processor who are both after a more profitable, larger, leaner animal. We are now making sure that selecting for these traits will not compromise the eating quality of the final product,” says Dr Anderson.

Dr Anderson has been collaborating closely with the Meat and Live Stock Australia and dozens of Sheep CRC scientists around Australia all working to achieve this balance between lean meat production and meat eating quality.

“The key aim of the Sheep CRC is to improve lean meat yield and maintain or even improve eating quality,” says Sheep CRC Meat Program Leader Dave Pethick.

“Over the last 15 years, the industry has been increasing the average percentage of lean meat per lamb by 230 grams, largely through genetic gain. This increase has been the major reason for the turnaround from lamb’s lack of appeal and regarded as a fatty meat to being considered the  premium lean meat.

“Before Dr Anderson’s project we didn’t have the data to see how far we as an industry had come. Now we have the data, and the tools to select for desired traits, we are in a strong position to keep improving the industry and our product.

Fiona presented her research today at the annual conference of the Cooperative Research Centre Association —‘Collaborate | Innovate |2012’.

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