Over the last seven years the Kimbolton Flock has supplied our genetics to a number of key research projects. These projects have ranged in focus from improving welfare (eg mastitis and foot rot) to improving the eating experience.
One of these projects was focussed on finding out if Intramuscular fat could be measured using visible and near-infrared spectroscopy (NIR) in an abattoir environment.
Intramuscular fat (IMF) is an important proxy for the eating experience of meat as the correct levels of IMF increase succulence and juiceness but too much makes it taste fatty. In recent years Wagyu in Beef has seen a surge in popularity and this is a great example of a highly marbled meat with a great eating experience that has high levels of IMF. It is therefore not surprising that a similar eating experience could be achieved for lamb.
However, continental breeds of sheep are renowned for their lean carcass and high killing out %, so how can you get a carcasse that has the right amount of subcutaneous fat but with high levels of IMF? Well that is the easy bit – use the right combination of sire and dam but the hard bit is measuring IMF levels in a meat processor at line speed as traditional methods are slow and expensive. Without this measurement there is no way to provide continual feedback to breeders so that they can make informed breeding decisions.
This project bred lambs from a range of Texel sires including ones selected from the Kimbolton flock. These were finished on grass and then sent in batches for slaughter where their loins were then analysed with IMF levels being measured using NIR.
The project found that:
Visible and near-infrared spectroscopy can predict intramuscular fat in lamb loins.
Spectroscopic predictions can be taken in an abattoir on intact meat cuts.
Meat quality predictions could feed back in the supply chain to inform breeding.
This could mean in the future IMF measurements get incorporated into a quality assurance scheme as the tools developed and proved during this project show there is a feasible measurement method. Of course only time will tell if this happens. In the meanwhile the Kimbolton flock is utilising the breeding values that are produced by the Texelplus evaluations to try to increase IMF levels in the Kimbolton flock.
For those who would like more details of the project a copy of the project report can be found at the link below: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S030917402030718X