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Gentle farm care gives Kiwi lamb tender edge

Gentle farm care gives Kiwi lamb tender edge

Tenderness in our meat is a key ingredient to make our taste experience  positive, and over the years of homekill as a farmer I have sometimes been disappointed in the result, and if the kill is a cattle beast, that lasts a while.

The last animal killed provided the most tender and tasty meat I have ever had and this article from Stuff gives me a clue as to why.

These farmers have created a point of difference with their harvested stock and after years of fine tuning and investment, are getting a premiuim for their work.

The system has been created with science driving the result,  practical farmers devising a plan to make it work, and marketers creating a picture to back up the product.

Interesting to note that the small size of this project is a positive for this venture and quality is easier to control with a smaller group.

A similar theme is evident in the success of the merino initiatives and some parts of the deer industry.

Are the quality of your animals getting lost within the big companies and would you be better selling with a niche marketing system that allows quality to be expressed and paid for?

The secret to providing a tender lamb chop for the discerning European diner is in the last hours of the lamb's life on the farm in NZ. It can be a frightening experience for the lamb - the sudden disruption of being mustered into yards, closely confined with other animals it may not be familiar with, harassed by barking dogs and shouting, whistling humans, then forced to run along a narrow race and up a ramp to be crammed together in a truck. By the time the lambs get to the meatworks, some are highly stressed, and it doesn't get any easier for them.

Put in scientific terms, the lambs use up glycogen stored in their muscles. Glycogen is a complex carbohydrate which, after slaughter, breaks down to lactic acid. The less lactic acid in the muscle, the less tender it will taste. Reducing the stress of those last hours on the farm is a key part of a new farming system embraced by a group of 21 farmers in a carefully crafted marketing plan.

The plan, known as FarmCare, has been six years in the making, and has finally paid off with a contract to supply a West European meat marketer with measurably tender lamb cuts for top-end stores and restaurants under the brand name Kumanu. FarmCare is the brainchild of Te Awamutu veterinarian turned farm consultant Chris Mulvaney, who says it is firmly grounded in science. It focuses on animal welfare, environmental responsibility, community involvement and meat quality.

It has been welcomed by the marketer, whose company, Toot Group, spent a year researching and writing the story that ended up in two small books. "Right from the start, I had a dream of getting a group of farmers together who really understood the importance of monitoring, measuring and managing the welfare of their stock and of developing a branded lamb around that," Mulvaney says. Twenty-two decided to fund the creation of the Farm Quality Group, with the aim of earning the ability to make more for their lambs by being part of an efficient supply chain.

"The key to this was developing a strong relationship with the end- user," Mulvaney says. "We wanted to avoid the customer being one of the big European supermarket chains."Then they took the story to a processor. After looking at the industry, they settled on CMP, a subsidiary of Anzco. "Others we talked to were more concerned with quantity than quality. Within a week, Anzco had found the West European marketer and a three-way partnership of farmers, processor and the customer was formed to handle the deal, a first for the NZ meat industry. Anzco and the farmers, with funding help from Beef + Lamb NZ, then worked with Toot to further refine the Kumanu brand with European customers in mind.

The European marketer is convinced he can sell more. "It's tough at the moment with the recession, but once the economy improves, I am confident we will sell more and get more for them," he says. But Mulvaney's plan all along has been to ease the farmers into the deal. The danger of committing to supply big numbers is if the weather turns against them, he says. Spreading the risk across both islands helps avoid that.

The latest step has been to reduce the stress on lambs leaving the farm.Helped by funding from the Primary Industries Ministry's Sustainable Farming Fund, Mulvaney has worked out a programme for the farmers to follow. It starts three weeks from the day the truck arrives. The lambs are put into mobs of about 400 - the number of a truck and trailer load.  Once a week, the mob is taken into the yards. This is done quietly, with no dogs or extra noise. They stay there an hour or two and then are moved out though a narrow race. By the time the truck arrives, they have grown accustomed to this. Any stressful events, such as crutching, have to be done at least eight days before they go on the truck.

"When they leave the farm, it will be stressful, and the glycogen in the muscle will be reduced," Mulvaney says. "Our aim is to make sure there's enough still left to produce enough lactic acid to keep the muscle tender." Tests so far show they are successful, with 88 per cent of lambs prepared in this way falling into the ideal pH range - a test of alkalinity and acidity. In contrast, the industry average is 70 per cent, acknowledged as the world's best.

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

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