Meat scanning extended to deer

TIM CRONSHAW
Last updated 15:15 06/07/2012

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Meat scanning technology will be introduced for deer at Alliance Group's new venison processing chain at Timaru's Smithfield site later in the season.

The large meat processing and export co-operative, based in Invercargill, will initially have deer analysed by VIAscan technology at its Makarewa site in Southland in October.

This will be a world first for venison scanning, after the technology was successfully developed for lamb in 2003 and later for cattle.

Smithfield is second on the rank after the first weaners from a deer progeny test are processed at Makarewa.

The Timaru site was opened this week for venison processing, with a new chain assembled using equipment from the closed Sockburn site in Christchurch.

Livestock general manager Murray Behrent said the technology would help suppliers produce high- quality meat sought after by markets.

He said farmers would eventually be paid on a yield basis for venison when more scanning equipment was in place.

"This will be the only place in the world where deer will be graded by VIAscan."

Behrent said bone-out trials had been carried out at Makarewa to build complex algorithms for deer, modelled on sheep scanning. When deer carcasses went past the camera, it would accurately scan their meat yield performance.

Meat is measured, less fat and bone, to gain yields for each animal. The carcass is divided into three primal areas - leg, middle and shoulder - with reports given for each meat yield result.

Behrent said lamb scanning had given farmers good breeding signals to lift carcass quality when tied with sire programmes, and venison scanning was expected to help them identify the best genetics in deer herds.

He said the co-operative had identified an ideal market weight range and yield for each area of the carcass.

"Kill sheets will provide a profile showing how each herd performs against these ideal market requirements."

The introduction of the National Animal Identification and Tracing scheme and its electronic ear tags in March will allow farmers to identify the yield performance of each deer. This information will help them in improving their breeding of hinds to the best stags.

Alliance is part-funding the deer progeny test, which is in its second year and adds further to meat yield work as well as improving growth rates, survivability and the eye muscle area.

Semen collected from selected stags around the country was artificially inseminated into hinds based at White Rock Station near Rangitata Gorge and Haldon Station near Lake Benmore. The resulting weaners will be among the first to go through VIAscan in October before it is opened up to the processing of commercial deer.

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Deer Industry New Zealand chief executive Mark O'Connor said farmers supported any technology linking payment to meat quality and market needs.

"This is one technology to support that, and the other reason it's good is it provides a link to the deer industry's deer progeny test."

He said venison prices had remained stable in Europe despite challenging market conditions, and there were opportunities to add more value by improving processing and breeding.

About 80 per cent of the deer going through Smithfield will come from south of Christchurch.

- The Press

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