Making More from Sheep Australian Wool Innovation Limited Meat & Livestock Australia
MODULE 3: Market Focused Lamb and Sheepmeat Production
Procedure 3.2
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Consumers demand food products that are consistent in quality and health benefits free of chemical residues and other contamination. Tool 3.4 presents a check list to assist production and delivery of quality assured sheepmeat products. Consult your livestock agent, buyer or processor for more specific requirements.

Monitor and assess the productivity and profitability of the production system by:

Recording the amount of feed on offer from forage and/or supplementary feeding systems.

Assessing the average growth rate to market (kilograms per day).

Recording pre-slaughter growth, especially for Merino lambs.

Calculating the cost of production (cents per kilogram).

Pre-sale or pre-slaughter weighing and fat scoring lambs.

Knowing skin values at the time of sale.

At a Glance
Weigh and fat score lambs to monitor growth rate and condition and use the information to better manage the production system and meet target specifications.

pt Use dressing percentage to convert live animal weight into carcase weight of each sale consignment.

pt Use MSA guidelines for lamb and sheepmeat to improve product eating quality.

pt Understand management factors affecting skin values.

Key decisions, critical actions and benchmarks

Weigh and/or fat score lambs

Weighing all or a representative 20% sub-sample of lambs at weaning is recommended. Lambs should be weighed after 2-3h off feed for an accurate assessment. Make adjustments for wet or damp sheep and wool length. After weighing, draft lambs into liveweight categories and then use fat scoring to assess the range in fatness.

Fat scoring of sale lambs (see tool 3.3) is an important pre-sale procedure when targeting a market (see Carcase fat score descriptions table in Procedure 3.1). The fat scores are based on the live animal tissue thickness (both fat and lean tissue) at the GR site (110mm from the carcase midline over the 12th rib). A practical option is to draft lambs into liveweight categories then fat score a 20% sub-sample of the animals. This is used to estimate the amount of fat cover on the carcase and fat scores or MSA processing classes from 1 (leanest) to 5 (fattest).

Predict carcass weight from dressing percentage

Australian lambs generally have a standard dressing percentage of 45-49% hot weight, 2‑3 hours off feed.

Use dressing percentage to convert live animal weight into carcase weight (as per figure 3.3).

Figure 3.3 Converting live weight to carcase weight

Converting live weight to carcase weight

Factors affecting dressing percentage include:

  • Breed type - at the same fatness, more muscled animals dress higher; Merinos tend to dress lower. Border Leicester/ Merino and Merino lambs will generally dress 1.5% to 3.5% less than second cross lambs.
  • Age - older animals have a lower dressing percentage (suckers > carryover lamb > ewe mutton). Tool 3.3 tables these differences.
  • Fat score - higher fat score animals have a higher dressing percentage (see tool 3.3)
  • Time off feed and water prior to weighing - increased time held off-feed increases dressing percentage (see tool 3.3).
  • Seasonal feed conditions - low digestibility pasture will reduce dressing percentage by as much as 3%
  • Sex – wether lambs dress higher than ewe lambs
  • Skin weight: if wool is dry make no adjustment for weight. If wool is wet with a 75mm wool length, it will hold 0.2-0.5kg of water.

Apply Meat Standards Australia™ (MSA) sheepmeat guidelines

Use of MSA guidelines for lamb and sheepmeat will improve the eating quality of lamb, hogget, young mutton and mutton.

Key MSA on-farm guidelines include:

  • First and second cross lambs gain at least 100g/day weight for the two weeks before consignment and sale.
  • Merino lambs gain at least 150g/day before consignment and slaughter.
  • Sheep are at least fat score 2 at slaughter.
  • Sheep are gaining weight for at least 2 weeks before consignment for slaughter.

Additional guidelines and further information on the MSA production system can be found in tool 3.5 and tool 3.6 presents the MSA processing guide.

Livestock Quality Systems

Livestock Quality Systems (LQS) provides certification and verification systems that instil confidence in on-farm food safety practices.

LQS consists of four major programs:

  • Livestock Production Assurance (LPA) – on-farm food safety certification program designed to help the red meat industry strengthen the food safety systems currently in place.
  • National Vendor Declarations (NVD) the key tool used by sheep producers to declare valuable information about the food safety status of the livestock being sold in Australia.
  • Electronic Declaration Program download software programs that provide electronic versions of the LPA NVD/Waybill.
  • Livestock Fodder Declarations obtained from the supplier of livestock fodder at purchase to indicate the chemicals used.

The National Livestock Identification Scheme (NLIS) for Sheep and Goats

Throughout Australia, producers are required to know where the sheep and goats under their management have come from and where they are going.

As of 1 Jan 2011

(1) All sheep and managed goats must be identified with an approved NLIS ear tag before leaving their property – be they destined for a saleyard, abattoir, live export, sale over-the-hooks (OTH) or another property with a different Property Identification Code (PIC).

(2) The NLIS ear tag must be imprinted with the owner’s PIC (in all states but WA) or a registered brand (in WA only).

(3) All transported sheep and goats, must be accompanied by accurate and fully completed movement documents, generally a Livestock Production Assurance National Vendor Declaration and Waybill (LPA NVD/Waybill).

In addition, a mob-based movement must also be recorded in the NLIS database. The person responsible for the livestock at the destination property will need to record movements of mobs of sheep and goats between the properties with different PICs on the NLIS database.

For further information refer to National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) website:

The National Residue Survey

The National Residue Survey is an Australian Government program that monitors agricultural products and meat producing animals for residues of agricultural and veterinary chemicals, as well as some environmental and industrial contaminants.

The general purpose of residue monitoring is to confirm that residues in products are within internationally accepted limits and to alert responsible authorities when limits are exceeded so that corrective action can be taken, and affected product removed from the food chain.

The survey is designed to confirm Australia’s status as a producer of clean meat. Abide by withholding periods for a range of chemicals to avoid residues in sheep meat.

Signposts Signposts


Making the Most of Mutton (4.4 MB)

Winning against seeds (1.24 MB)

MLA Live Assessment Yard Book - Sheep and lamb

MLA Tips & Tools - MSA Sheepmeat Information Kit

‘Is it fit to load? A national guide to the selection of animals fit to transport’.

Order any of these MLA publications by:


National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) for sheep and goats.

Visit the NLIS website:


MLA Market Information: available for iOS and Android. Latest pricing, reporting, forecasts and analysis for Australian and international red-meat markets.