|Instrument Lamb Grading Begins
By AMY TRINIDAD
Sheep Industry News Editor
It’s been more than two years in the making, but the first trial of data collection for instrument lamb grading took place at Superior Farms in Denver, Colo., in October. This monumental feat was one step of many in the ultimate goal of being able to officially grade lamb carcasses with the assistance of specially designed electronic instruments that predict quality and yield grade attributes. The goal of this research funded by the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI), in cooperation with Colorado State University (CSU), the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), Superior Farms, e+v Technology GmbH and Research Management Systems Inc., is to enhance the accuracy and consistency of USDA lamb grade assignments and provide more objective and reliable information on quality and yield attributes to all segments of the marketing chain.
Implemented in the beef industry this past summer, Martin O’Connor, chief of Standards, Analysis and Technology Branch of AMS Livestock and Seed Program, says, “Video image analysis techniques have proven to be able to duplicate human actions in carcass assessments in a more objective manner to provide a higher level of accuracy.”
The ultimate utilization of this advancement would allow the complete supply chain – from producer to consumer – to be able to recognize the value of a lamb carcass.
“The information collected from these instruments will demonstrate to lamb producers exactly how many pounds of lean edible meat is on the carcasses,” explains Tom Watson, ASI Lamb Council chairman, speaking about how the instrumental grading will serve as a benefit to producers.
“It has been documented for several years that producers are frequently not paid for lambs based on value; however, this equipment will make a big difference in assigning value for lambs,” says Keith Belk, Ph.D., CSU professor. “If lambs are to be accurately evaluated enough based on their composition, the difference in where we are today and where we could be in the future with these instruments is probably enough to keep a lot of people in the lamb business.”
Not only a tool for producers, the instrument grading equipment means a better control of inventory for packers and the ability to more efficiently fulfill customer orders.
“We see participation in this study to be a real benefit for Superior,” says James Teitscheid, general manager of Denver-based Superior plant. “Once approved for grading carcasses, not only will this equipment give us a more accurate control of inventory, but by lessening the human element, it will also provide a more uniform and consistent grade across the board which will provide a greater reflection of lamb value.”
According to Lawrence Yates, Ph.D., AMS project manager, there will be a year-long period of data collection performed at Superior Farms. This approach to data collection will allow for consideration of all types of marketed lambs so that the array of stored information can serve as a prediction model to accurately evaluate any type of carcass presented.
To acquire this data, the instrumental grading cameras take two pictures of the carcass coming off the kill floor, one of the side of the carcass and another of the back. From there, the carcass is chilled overnight. It is then ribbed to get another picture of the two loin eyes for marbling and lean content measurements in addition to determining the thickness of back fat.
Once the cold measurements are taken, the carcasses are fabricated to exact specifications and more measurements are taken.
“The fabrication is performed to determine cutability of the carcass. We will be able to tell exactly how much of each carcass is sellable product and compare that to the information gathered from the cameras,” explains Filogomes Alves C. Neto, CSU graduate research assistant.
Once the data collection period is complete, AMS will use the information to develop a standard and determine where the grade lines should be drawn as they have for beef instrument evaluation. This standard will then serve as a guide for use of the instruments in lamb plants.
“Once the study is complete and the instruments are approved for accuracy and repeatability, the industry will be able to implement the instruments to assign grades on a real-time basis,” says Neto, explaining that the new system will be seamless with current grading standards.
In addition to the use of this new equipment in the U.S. beef industry, a few European countries utilize the imaging equipment for grading lambs.
According to Belk, not only is the research team working to capture yield information, but quality grades are also top of mind, saying, “We are doing work that will allow the instrument manufacturers to calibrate their machines to also assign quality grades.”
In the second part of the study, the American Lamb Board (ALB) is funding resources for CSU researchers to determine consumer palatability rankings and establish baseline tenderness for American lamb meat. The same carcasses utilized for the carcass composition evaluation in the ASI research project will be utilized for the ALB research project.
CSU will be facilitating untrained consumer panels that consist of lamb eaters to sample American lamb and rate the samples for like/dislike of tenderness, flavor and juiciness. In addition to completing untrained consumer panels, the second objective of the ALB study is to establish baseline tenderness for American lamb. Tenderness data will be obtained and analyzed from samples of the Longissimus muscles from each carcass.
“The results of the untrained consumer sensory panel will help ALB characterize and better understand consumers’ perceptions of American lamb,” explains Megan Wortman, ALB executive director. “The objective measurements of American lamb tenderness have the potential to help ALB characterize and promote tenderness attributes through its marketing and promotion programs that communicate the values of American lamb.”
“In the end, this project will be a long time coming, but one worth waiting for by producers. In addition, it will prove to be valuable in making marketing decisions at the plant,” says Glen Fisher, ASI president.
The National Academy of Sciences, in its new report on the U.S. sheep industry titled Making the Transition from Tradition, cites the following challenge in the U.S. lamb industry: “Developing a system that accurately assesses value on which packers and producers/feeders can agree and trust will be a major challenge. Whatever system is developed will likely be automated and have the capability to uniformly assess carcass value from processor to processor and from day to day within a processing plant. Such an automated system will have to fit into current plant designs and must be in keeping with current processing plant line speeds.”
“We believe these mechanical imaging systems that are being evaluated in this project addresses this challenge,” concludes Fisher.