Production of Australian Lamb
In Australia, lambs are produced in a wide range of climates—from the arid and semi-arid parts of the inland region, to the high rainfall areas of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania. The southwest corner of Western Australia is also an important lamb-producing region.
There are three major groups of sheep bred in Australia: those which produce wool, those grown for meat and dual-purpose sheep grown for both wool and meat. Merinos and their crosses are the most prominent breed of the Australian sheep industry. Renowned for producing high quality wool, this breed also plays an important role in meat production.
While Merinos themselves are a suitable meat sheep (particularly for export markets in the Middle East), when crossed with meat and dual-purpose breeds (predominantly British types) they produce the large, lean lambs preferred by the domestic market and high-quality export trade (the U.S. market in particular).
Australia is internationally recognized as free of all major livestock diseases. The Australian meat and livestock industry has had a long-term commitment to food safety, product integrity and traceability, and its product quality complements Australia’s focus on responsibility in meeting the demands of its international customers.
Lamb production in Australia is usually confined to areas of good pastoral conditions and high rainfall. This includes the slopes and tablelands of New South Wales and Victoria, southeastern South Australia and southwest Western Australia. However, Mutton and wool production are spread throughout the sheep-producing areas.
The size of the Australian sheep flock has fluctuated significantly over the years in response to varying seasonal conditions, movements in wool prices and the relative profitability of other enterprises. In 1970, the sheep flock peaked at 180 million head. Today, sheep numbers are estimated at around 68 million.
All sheep raised in Australia are covered by the Australian Livestock Production Assurance (LPA) program, which provides certification and verification systems that can be used to instill confidence in on-farm food safety practices.
The National Vendor Declaration (NVD) is the food safety document that underpins the LPA program in Australia. It shows the history of how the animal was raised.
The Flockcare quality assurance program is incorporated into the LPA. Flockcare is an independently audited LPA program for on-farm management practices including chemicals. It is based on HACCP and ISO 9002.
The National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) is Australia’s system for the identification and tracing of sheep biosecurity, food safety, product integrity and market access. It was developed by the Australian government and the red meat industry and became mandatory in 2006.
The Property Identification Code (PIC) is the core basis of Australia’s livestock traceability system. It underpins Australia’s NVD and the NLIS programs. The PIC system was introduced in the late 1060s and identifies each property with an eight-digit alphanumeric code. The code is issued by state governments and identifies the state, region and location of the property.
The NLIS for sheep is based on the use of the PIC, the application of a visually readable ear tag, which records the PIC and the use of approved documentation for the flock. The system facilitates trace-back to the property of birth. This information is transferred to a central database, allowing the tracing of sheep from the farm to the point of slaughter to occur swiftly and efficiently. This is one attribute that distinguishes the NLIS from other traceability systems around the word and ensures that red meat from Australia is always safe and reliable.