JCU and Tattykeel collaborate on Margra lamb project

By Victoria Nugent
December 15 2021 - 11:00pm
JCU researchers are working with Tattykeel to develop a genetic test for their premium MARGRA lamb, sourced from the Australian White breed of sheep. PICTURE: Tattykeel

James Cook University researchers have teamed up with renowned NSW Australian White stud Tattykeel to make their micro-marbled lamb brand even better.

A genetic quality assurance index is being developed at JCU for Tattykeel's Margra lamb, building off an existing research relationship that has helped the Oberon-based stud to identify which genetic lines provided the finest eating quality.

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The Margra lamb has been dished up at restaurants in Sydney, Melbourne, Singapore, Dubai and Los Angeles, winning acclaim from chefs.

JCU animal geneticist and nutritionist Associate Professor Aduli Malau-Aduli and his team will work with Tattykeel, the birthplace of the Australian White breed, on the project.

"We intend to provide farmers at the farmgate level with some form of a test where they can identify animals that carry a natural genetic ability to produce meat-eating quality characteristics," Prof Malau-Aduli said.

"A lot of the tools that are out there are based on estimated breeding value but this will be based on actual eating quality indices that have been tested in the laboratory that we can then link to the DNA of the particular animal."

The project, supported by a Science and Industry Endowment Fund Ross Metcalf STEM+ Business Fellowship grant, administered by CSIRO, will see JCU receive more than $450,000 over two years.

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Through the support of Tattykeel's funding and the matching grant, early-career research fellow John Otto will be allocated to Tattykeel full-time for two years under the supervision of Prof Malau-Aduli.

It comes off the back of a partnership between Prof Malau-Aduli, Tattykeel stud principal Graham Gilmore and export manager Tim Leahy dating from 2016.

"We've been involved in testing their animals, assessing the parental generations and subsequent composites that come out of that to be able to tell them what the intra-muscular fat content and fat melting point is," Prof Malau-Aduli said.

"In the area of livestock agriculture, JCU has an important role to play, particularly in giving farmers advice on genetics, nutrition and a choice of animals that will meet market specifications."

Mr Gilmore said a lower fat melting point, high Omega 3 fatty acids and high intra-muscular fat had been crucial to success of the brand.

"From the tests that we've been doing and following generation after generation, we are narrowing the bell curve on genetic variation," he said.

"If you're looking for eating quality in meat, it has to be controlled genetically before you put the environmental factors in.

"We're not interested in estimations and Aduli is of the same belief. You need real data."

Mr Gilmore said extensive testing carried out by Prof Malau-Aduli and his team had helped narrow the variation of the fat melting point in MARGRA lamb to between just 30 and 36 degrees.

"The lamb market situation is a little like Wagyu beef," he said.

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"Everyone knows Wagyu is a premium meat but there are certain brands where you are almost guaranteed you'll get high eating quality because they've done their testing, the feed regimes are right and they have control of the breeding through genetics.

"The Margra brand is the very best of the Australian White breed because it's from tested animals and we know what it's doing."

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