Consumers demand food products that are consistent in quality, provide nutrition and health benefits as well as being free of chemical residues and other contamination. The Lamb production checklist helps producers deliver quality assured sheepmeat products.

Livestock agents, buyers or processors can provide more specific requirements as each processor will have specifications relevant to their customer needs and requirements.

Producers can monitor and assess the productivity and profitability of their production system by:

  • recording the amount of feed on offer from forage and/or supplementary feeding systems
  • assessing the average growth rate to market (kilograms per day)
  • recording pre-slaughter growth, especially for Merino lambs
  • calculating the cost of production (cents per kilogram)
  • pre-sale or pre-slaughter weighing and fat scoring lambs
  • knowing skin values at the time of sale

Weighing and fat scoring lambs

Weighing lambs at weaning is recommended. Weigh lambs after 2–3 hours off feed for an accurate assessment. Draft lambs into liveweight categories and then use fat scoring to assess the range in fatness.

Fat scoring sale lambs is an important pre-sale procedure when targeting a market. Fat scoring is performed on live sheep and is based on the tissue thickness (both fat and lean tissue) at the GR site (110 mm from the carcase midline over the twelfth rib). A practical option is to draft lambs into liveweight categories and fat score a 20% sub-sample of the animals. The result can be used to estimate the amount of fat cover on the carcase, with fat scores ranging from 1 (leanest) to 5 (fattest).

Predicting carcase weight from dressing percentage (DP%)

Dressing percentage is an important consideration when marketing lambs as it provides an indication of how likely sheep are to hit the carcase weight specifications for a given category. Dressing percentage is the weight of a carcase, expressed as a percentage of the liveweight of the animal from which it will be processed.

Australian lambs generally have a dressing percentage of 45-50% hot standard carcase weight (HSCW), 23 hours off feed. Leaving sheep off feed and water for extended periods of time will reduce their dressing percentage and therefore their yield (lower relative HSCW).

Use dressing percentage to convert liveweight into carcase weight.

Converting liveweight to carcase weight

Example

Liveweight of lamb

50kg

Estimated dressing percentage (DP%)

46%

Live weight (kg) x DP% (decimal)

50 kg x 0.46

Carcase weight (hot standard carcase weight)

23kg

Producers can use dressing percentage to estimate carcase weight from liveweight to meet market specifications. On receiving carcase feedback, producers can check the actual dressing percentage to see how close their estimation was and then refine estimated dressing percentage to use on-farm.

Factors affecting dressing percentage include:

  • Breed: At the same fatness, more muscled animals dress higher. Border Leicester/Merino and Merino lambs will generally dress 1.5% to 3.5% less than second-cross lambs.
  • Age: Older animals have a lower dressing percentage (young lamb > carryover lamb > mutton).
  • Fat score: Higher fat score animals have a higher dressing percentage.
  • Seasonal feed conditions: Low digestibility pasture will reduce dressing percentage by as much as 3%.
  • Sex: Wether lambs dress higher than ewe lambs.
  • Skin weight: If wool is dry do not adjust for weight. If wool is wet with a 75mm wool length, it will hold 0.2-0.5kg of water.

See the Fat scoring lambs and sheep tool for more information.

Applying Meat Standards Australia (MSA) sheepmeat requirements and recommendations

Use of Meat Standards Australia (MSA) supply chain management program requirements and recommendations for lamb and sheepmeat will improve the eating quality of lamb, hogget and mutton.

MSA on-farm requirements include:

  • Producers are to be registered with MSA before sheep leave the property of origin to be MSA eligible.
  • Minimum of two weeks at consignment property before dispatch.
  • Minimum two weeks off shears (minimum wool length of 5 mm).
  • At least fat score 2.
  • Minimum HSCW 16 kg for milk-fed lamb/young lamb.
  • Minimum HSCW 18 kg for all weaned lambs, hogget and mutton.
  • Total time off feed not greater than 48 hours before slaughter.
  • Animals to have access to water at all times while not in transit.
  • Maximum time in transit 24 hours.
  • National Vendor Declaration (sheep and lambs) correctly filled out and accompany consignment to saleyards or processor, including the MSA registration number in Part A, Question 7 ‘Additional details’.
  • Entire males or animals showing secondary sexual characteristics are not eligible for MSA grading.

MSA recommends lambs and sheep are on a rising plane of nutrition leading up to consignment, and the following growth rates are achieved in the two weeks before slaughter:

  • First and second cross – minimum of 100 g/day.
  • 51–100% Merino – minimum of 150 g/day.

Additional recommendations and further information on MSA sheepmeat production can be found in the MSA production guidelines for lamb and sheepmeat tool and on the MSA Sheepmeat website.

Red meat integrity system

Australia’s red meat integrity system ensures the livestock industry can ‘stand by what it sells’.

Incorporating on-farm assurance and livestock traceability, the red meat integrity system protects the disease-free status of Australian red meat and underpins the marketing of our product as clean, safe and natural. Integrity Systems Company (ISC) is responsible for delivering this world leading red meat integrity system, managing and delivering the industry’s on-farm assurance and through-chain traceability programs:

Livestock Production Assurance

The Livestock Production Assurance (LPA) program is the Australian industry’s on-farm assurance program, providing evidence of livestock history and producer on-farm practices when transferring animals through the value chain.

There are seven requirements of the LPA program, which underpin market access for Australian red meat, providing customer assurance around food safety, biosecurity and ethical production. Producers who choose to participate in the LPA program commit to carrying out on-farm practices that feed into and support the integrity of the entire system. Minimum learning and assessment requirements include:

  1. Property risk assessments
  2. Safe and responsible animal treatments
  3. Stock foods, fodder crops, grain and pasture treatments
  4. Preparation for dispatch for livestock
  5. Livestock transactions and movements
  6. Biosecurity
  7. Animal welfare

This integrity is verified when producers sign an LPA National Vendor Declaration (NVD) for livestock movements. NVDs communicate the food safety and treatment status of every animal every time it moves along the value chain – between properties, to saleyards, or to processors. The NVD also acts as movement documentation throughout the value chain.

NVDs are a legal document that are key to Australian red meat’s traceability and market access. It is crucial that you fill out the NVD accurately.

Producers must be LPA accredited to access to LPA NVDs. When they tick the box on their LPA NVD, they are declaring their on-farm practices meet LPA requirements, and ultimately customer expectations.

An LPA electronic National Vendor Declaration (eNVD) is the digital alternative to paper based NVDs. The eNVD is not just an NVD – it’s a system for completing all consignment paperwork digitally including livestock assurance and health declarations.

National Livestock Identification System

The National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) is Australia’s system for the identification and traceability of cattle, sheep and goats. The NLIS reflects Australia’s commitment to biosecurity and food safety and provides a competitive advantage in the global market.

As animals are bought, sold and moved along the supply chain, they must be tagged with an NLIS accredited tag or device from their property (PIC) of birth. In most cases this tag will remain with the animal for their entire life and it is illegal to remove this tag, unless it is not in working order.

If tags are lost or become defective producers can apply for a new tag, however if the animal is no longer at its place of birth then a ‘post breeder’ tag must be used. This indicates the animal no longer has ‘lifetime’ traceability.

All animals leaving a PIC must be identified with an NLIS accredited device before moving, unless a permit is obtained from the state or territory. Each movement they make to a location with a different PIC must be recorded centrally on the NLIS database by the receiving property via their NLIS account. NLIS accounts are free to open and operate.

Using this information, NLIS can provide a life history of an animal’s movements and discern if contact with other livestock occurred. The NLIS is required to facilitate the traceability of animals in accordance with the National Traceability and Performance Standards.

National Residue Survey

The National Residue Survey is an Australian Government program that monitors agricultural products and meat producing animals for residues of agricultural and veterinary chemicals, as well as some environmental and industrial contaminants.

The purpose of residue monitoring is to confirm that residues in products are within internationally accepted limits and to alert responsible authorities when limits are exceeded so that corrective action can be taken and affected product removed from the supply chain.

The survey is designed to confirm Australia’s status as a producer of clean meat. Abide by label directions for use, withholding periods and slaughter intervals for all chemicals to avoid residues in sheepmeat.