Incorporating lamb eating and nutritional quality into a commercial breeding programme (The Student Perspective)

Student: Eleri Price
Company: Innovis
Academic Supervisor: Prof. Nigel Scollan & Prof. Will Haresign

The project

The project investigates the effect of incorporating computer tomography (CT) measured muscle density into a breeding programme to improve carcase, eating and nutritional quality of lamb. Improving the quality of lamb is vital in order to maintain a thriving sheep industry and its important contribution to the rural and national economy of the UK. Genetics can provide a cost effective, permanent means, of improving the eating quality of lamb. The project is an industry scale study to support commercial sheep breeding objectives in relation to meat quality aspects that are of importance to consumers. To meet this challenge a collaboration team of 3 organisations: KESS, Innovis Breeding Sheep Ltd and IBERS are working together.

CT is a tool used to measure live animal body composition. An additional measurement that can be recorded is muscle density, an indicator of intramuscular fat (IMF) which is associated with enhanced meat eating quality. Genetic variation exists between individual sheep for IMF content, fatty acid composition and also concentrations of Zinc and Iron in meat. This exciting project aims to select and breed from five high muscle density Abermax® rams and five low muscle density Abermax® rams, which are expected to differ in IMF, to evaluate differences in progeny carcase, meat eating and nutritional quality.

The student – Eleri Price

Eleri_Price_PhotoUndertaking this research with Innovis Breeding Sheep Ltd. means that Eleri can learn a wide range of practical skills. The mixture of academic and company contacts, has created interactions with a large network of people who have assisted in the project. As the project is commercially based, it involves the measurement of lamb meat quality traits, in a range of different environments including farm, abattoir, processor and laboratories. It has allowed Eleri to develop a range of skills in all these areas in conjunction with the overall project management of this research. The contacts Eleri has met and learnt from, means that she will be looking to further her career in a similar area to this current project.


A direct benefit of the project is that CT muscle density is now used to aid breed for improved lamb meat quality in the Abermax® genetic programme run by Innovis Breeding Sheep Ltd. CT scanning rams can identify individuals with beneficial low muscle density values (high intramuscular fat content) for use in the breeding programme which will influence the sensory meat eating quality traits such as tenderness, juiciness and flavour of their progeny.

Results indicate that lambs sired by low muscle density rams had improved colour saturation and redness. Although not significant, low muscle density progeny had better meat eating quality in
most aspects (including texture, juiciness, flavour and overall liking) and had a higher IMF content (by 10%) and higher tenderness values (as measured by shear force). However, lambs sired by high muscle density rams have heavier carcases with more lean meat, a higher killing out percentage and better conformation.

In conclusion, using rams with lower muscle density values can help improve meat eating quality values due to the slightly increased intramuscular fat levels but this must be combined with measures of carcass weight and lean to avoid a slight reduction in overall carcase size/conformation. Incorporating muscle density in breeding programmes can be advantageous for improved meat quality for the consumer.