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The effect of ingesting a saltbush and barley ration on the carcass and eating quality of sheepmeat

  • K. L. Pearce (a1) (a2), D. W. Pethick (a2) and D. G. Masters (a1)

Forage halophytes such as saltbush (Atriplex spp.) are widely used to revegetate Australian saline land and can provide a medium-quality fodder source. An animal house experiment was conducted to investigate differences in the carcass and eating quality of sheep ingesting saltbush from saline land in combination with a barley supplement. Twenty-six merino hoggets (two groups of 13) were fed either a 60 : 40 dried saltbush (Atriplex nummularia): barley (S + B) ration or a 33 : 25 : 42 lupins : barley : oaten hay ration (C) for 10 weeks prior to commercial slaughter. After 10 weeks, all sheep were commercially slaughtered and a single loin (from 12th rib to chump) collected from each animal for taste-panel analysis. Carcass weight, total tissue depth over the 12th rib 110 mm from the midline (GR fat depth), ultimate pH and colour were determined and X-ray bone densitometry used to estimate the fat content of the carcass. Blood samples were taken to assess the hormonal response to ingesting these diets and fatty acid profiles of the subcutaneous and intramuscular fat were determined. Both groups grew at the same rate (62 g/day) and had similar hot carcass weights (P > 0.01) (17.2 ± 0.3 kg for S + B and 17.9 ± 0.3 kg for C). However, these live weights may not be high enough to be commercially viable such that saltbush and barley may only be suitable as a maintenance feed. The S + B-fed sheep had a significantly (P = 0.055) lower fat and higher lean content (P < 0.05) than the C group. This is a positive finding as fat denudation is a significant cost to processors and farmers can produce sheep that are depositing less fat or more lean per unit of live-weight gain. The decreased fat and increased lean content were attributed to the higher protein : energy ratio available for production and lower circulating insulin and higher growth hormone of the S + B-fed sheep. The lower body-fat content and lower metabolisable energy and digestible organic matter intake did correlate with the sheep fed the S + B diet, having a significantly lower percentage of unsaturated fat and equal levels of saturated fat than the C treatment. Diet had no effect on the ultimate pH or colour of the meat. Treatment had no significant effect on any of the eating-quality attributes (P > 0.1). The drying of the saltbush, the shorter length of the experimental period and the low carcass fat content were believed to have contributed to this result. Further field experiments are needed to clarify the benefits to carcass and eating quality of ingesting saltbush.

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