Selection for game meat production

Dr. PC Lubout

Dr Lubout completed his BSc Agric, BSc Agric Hons and MSc degrees at the University of Pretoria, where after he obtained his DSc. at the University of Fort Hare. Dr Lubout has been employed in various posts in agriculture and the scientific community as: Agricultural Advisor, Senior Lecturer, Ass. Professor, Professor & HOD, Dean of Science & Agriculture.  In 2012 Dr Lubout decided to start his own company called Wildlife Stud Services (WS2), of which he is currently the Head Genetic Advisor and Managing Director.

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Game meat, the primary product of wildlife ranching in South Africa, is not only slowly becoming a local commodity but also has great export potential. WRSA has taken the necessary steps by developing internationally acceptable slaughter, quality, and health export standards for the industry. The WRSA system makes provision for full traceability of the product from the farm to the plate which opens new opportunities for the wildlife producer to include meat production traits into his selection programmes (Figure 1). Within the WRSA traceability system slaughter, carcass weights and other carcass measurements can be linked back to a specific animal on the farm. Selection for increased carcass weight would increase farmer income. Selection for carcass traits that improve customers’ eating experience of the product would also lead to an increased demand for the product.

Figure 1: Capturing meat production performance information on the WS2 system to calculate estimated breeding values for live- and carcass weights, etc.

Improvement of quantity of game meat

The most important traits:

1.      Reproduction

Reproduction is economically the most important trait, has a low heritability and is greatly influenced by environment and management. Reproduction is 5-10 times more important than any other trait.

2.      Animal growth

Growth is a trait of economic importance, is moderately heritable, and can be measured with reasonable accuracy. In general, with all other things being equal, higher growth rates will lead to higher profitability and consequently, it is a key breeding objective for most herds. Selection of animals as close to market requirements as possible improves effectiveness of selection. So the weighing of animals at slaughter/hunt would be the minimum requirement. Within the WRSA traceability system, slaughter and carcass weights, as well as other carcass measurements, can be linked back to the farm and specific animal for selection purposes.

Breeders should attempt to measure their animals over the whole production cycle:

  • Birth weight (optional);
  • Weaning weight (optional);
  • 12/18/24 month weight (optional);
  • Final weight – at loading when hunted and entering dirty cold-room (compulsory, with WRSA traceability);
  • Carcass weight – after gutting with skin on, when entering clean cold-room (compulsory, with WRSA traceability); and
  • Mature animal weights – ewes and cows (optional).

These traits are closely linked genetically, nevertheless, there is some scope to select for them individually, but the one can be used to predict the other, e.g. weaning weight can be used to predict 12-month weight and so on. When the animals are weighed after being hunted this can again be used, for example, with weaning weight to predict accurate estimations of breeding values for the other growth traits. The more time an animal is weighed the more accurate the EBV’s will be. Weaning weight of a calf/lamb can also be used to evaluate the milk production potential of the dam.

Carcass weight breeding values are estimates of the genetic differences between animals in hot standard carcass weight (once gutted after the hunt). For example, an animal with a carcass weight EBV of +20 kg would be expected to produce progeny that have heavier slaughtered carcasses than an animal with a carcass weight EBV of +10 kg.

Game meat quality

Meat quality traits are of economic importance, are highly heritable, and can be measured with high accuracy. Selection for these traits can be extremely effective as their heritabilities are high and they can be accurately measured. The game industry has the added advantage of a traceability system that can link the data from the abattoir to the individual animal on the farm.

The most important meat quality traits are:

  1. Eye muscle (game abattoir, optional, with WRSA traceability system) The Eye Muscle Area (EMA) is correlated with the amount of meat in the carcass. The EBV provides an estimate of genetic differences between animals in eye muscle area at the 12/13th rib site of the carcass. Larger, more positive EMA EBV’s (measured in cm²) are generally more favourable.
  2. Meat tenderness (game abattoir, optional, extra cost, done in a separate lab) (with WRSA traceability system). Shear Force EBV’s are estimates of genetic differences between animals in meat tenderness. Lower (more negative) Shear Force EBV’s indicate that less shear force is required to cut the meat and therefore better tenderness.
  3. Retail Beef Yield (RBY) (game abattoir, optional) (with WRSA traceability system) is estimates of genetic differences in boned out retail beef percentage (%) yield in carcass. Animals with larger, more positive RBY EBV’s are expected to produce progeny that yield higher percentages of saleable meat.
  4. Colour (game abattoir, optional, done using meat colour chart) (with WRSA traceability system)
  5. Taste (game abattoir, optional, extra cost, done by taste panel) (with WRSA traceability system)

The data required can be generated by the breeder at slaughter and WRSA Game Meat Scheme. This data can then be linked back to the specific animal on the ranch, due to the traceability system. Selection for the genetic improvement of quantity and quality game meat is then achievable. The link of the WS² system (ILR²) to achieve these goals is already in practice in a number of countries: Namibia (beef), Australia (beef & mutton), etc., so all the building blocks are already there and just need to be linked. This can be done via the WS² system that can collect and store the data and also do the genetic analysis to produce EBV’s for the improvement of game meat traits that will lead to growth in the market due to increased quantity and quality.

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