The manager of a NSW abattoir which processes livestock exclusively for domestic butchers has warned lamb producers they will have to focus harder on using the right genetics or cop a price backlash from increasingly fussy buyers.
Matt Pollard, from Breakout River Meats at Cowra, said record lamb prices meant butchers would now only accept top-notch carcases and cuts and anything that wasn't up to scratch was being sent back.
He told a Coprice-sponsored feeding sheep for profit field day at the Boyd family's Canimbla sheep feedlot near Cowra that as a result his company's livestock buyers have had to become much more choosy about what they purchase.
Breakout River took over the Cowra abattoir in 2006 with the aim of being a quality meat supplier to leading retail butchers in Sydney and as far north as Coffs Harbour and as far south as Nowra.
"We don't deal with Woolworths, we don't deal with Coles and we are not exporters. We built Breakout wholly and solely on quality."
But Breakout's customer base is dwindling as retail butchers are crunched by competition from the big supermarkets, low stock numbers and soaring red meat prices.
"Last year we were serving 350 stores, now it's down to about 320. So we've lost about 30 butchers in just 12 months."
Mr Pollard said the only way for butchers to compete with supermarkets was on quality.
"Now while there is no numbers around everybody is getting good money for everything but if it ever gets back to the stage where it's (sheep numbers) strong again, genetics will play a big part," he said.
Mr Pollard said 27 years of experience had taught him the ewe was just as important as the ram in producing premium quality lambs.
"When we first started it was very hard to find what we needed, and what our shops needed, to survive against the slaughter from the supermarkets," he said.
Second-cross Poll Dorsets were the preferred lamb but he said producers were then wrongly advised to breed a leggier, longer lamb for the export "job", thinking they were going to get more meat out of the carcase.
Mr Pollard said that was wrong because all that happened was the same amount of meat was just stretched over a bigger frame.
"They did need to change the second-cross Dorset because it was too fat but they just went too far," he said.
Mr Pollard said he had boned out an ill-bred second-cross Poll Dorset weighing 25.1 kg and a well-bred 23.1kg lamb and the lighter one had yielded 11.3pc more meat which represented a huge difference in profitability.
Breakout then started to buy Dorpers because they had the right body shape and meat yield but their carcases needed to be aged much longer in cool rooms to achieve acceptable eating quality which neither the abattoir or its customers could afford.
As a result Breakout started to work closely with second-cross Dorset breeders including hosting them on visits to the abattoir to see their lambs hanging up.
"Some of them were very surprised," he said. "Now we have some excellent second-cross Dorsets coming through. We have helped them and it's helped our business."
Mr Pollard said the lambs being bought by the abattoir were all being sired by similar rams however ewes were just as important in producing the right product.
For the past two years Breakout has been working with Primeline lambs (developed by Tom Bull, Lambpro, Holbrook) and composites.
"They are not for everyone but they work for us," he said.
"If I had them 52 weeks of the year nobody would get around me wholesale-wise into Sydney and places like that, that's how consistent they are," he said.
The story Producers must focus harder on lamb genetics says leading processor first appeared on Farm Online.