Besides the S.African typing system for visual traits Dorpers were also developed using carcass competitions and for the last 15 consecutive years have won the S. African National Carcass competition.
Not questioning this I am just puzzled by why US packers tend to prefer wool lambs many of which come from breeding programs that do not use objective measurement of carcass traits. Am I just wrong in this or can others share experiences here in the US? Is it simply a pelt value issue? How if at all does the SA carcass trait judging differ from US standards? Is it true that hair breeds tend to be overly fat for US packer preferences? Perhaps in SA they are selecting for different consumer demands? Are the US packers just somehow in the dark?
Hi Andy, Good questions.
I don't think the US packers are in the dark at all but right now there are barely enough lambs produced in the US to keep the lines moving. Hence the push by ASI to promote expansion of flocks. The relative weakness of the $US has also had an impact in imports. The pelt value is an factor but if you listen to the pelt buyers like Nugget, what they really want is the wool cross pelts off the extremely huge 150 lb plus "lambs" that have spent way too much time in a feedlot or on grass. This preference is due to the value of the extra pelt area to avoid having to piece pelts for manufacturing the finish products. IMO these big overfat lambs don't do anybody in the sheep industry any good longterm. From a personal standpoint we had above average prices on our lambs and haven't had a pelt deduction either from the packer or middlemen for at least three years.
You are right that currently packers aren't paying for carcass traits. Eventually this may change with new technology being tested to see which lambs can return more to the packer. Again adequate supply is a factor and carcass value doesn't seem to be as much of an issue with the ethnic trade. Aside from carcass traits, other production traits measured (prolificacy, growth, etc.) directly benefit the breeder or feeder but not necessarily the packer.
As far as excess fat, Dorpers were never developed for conventional feedlot feeding and this can result in excess fat (or death). I'm not sure about other hair breeds but all tend to carry more P/K fat along with Finns and possibly some other breeds. We've marketed 1,000s of lambs off forage and have had the vast majority go as YG2......never any 4's which can certainly occur with wool and wool crosses. That being said, we market at a lighter weight ...usually 90 lbs, since that is where we can make the most money with fewer inputs and time. This is a choice to be made by each individual producer depending on their management and resources. A surprising thing we learned about fat is that the packers actually like it.....up to a point. A good even covering helps reduce shrinkage, and hold quality in the cooler. Dorpers are bred to carry more fat and have thicker skins in order to survive and thrive when lambed in a variety of climates.
The carcass evaluation in S. Africa (and AU) it seems to be the same standardized measurements as in the US.....yield and quality grades, LEA, fat thickness, meat to bone ratio, etc. As far as consumers, S. Africans are big lamb eaters and there are many more small abattoirs that sell direct to households.
Andy, I think as breeders of finewools and hair sheep, we are at either end of the spectrum of the vast volume of lambs coming into US packing plants. Who knows, maybe if the lamb supply increases drastically we'll both be in trouble.