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The effect of production system and management practices on the quality of meat products from ruminant livestock

EC Webb
LJ Erasmus


Demands for products of animal origin are increasing worldwide owing to the significant growth in the human population and changes in the health, wealth and life expectancy of people. The agricultural sector has the  scientific knowledge, expertise and technology to respond to these  challenges, but consumers are concerned about the methods used to meet these new challenges. They are also concerned about the environmental impact of modern technologies and intensification of production systems. Various combinations of pasture-based and intensive systems are  employed to raise ruminant livestock, depending on resources and  climate. The quality of animal products from production systems differs, but there are advantages and disadvantages for each. In South Africa, cattle and sheep are generally fattened for short periods to ensure  efficient production and to meet market requirements. This is more easily achieved by feeding different proportions of concentrate diets, with or  without feed additives and growth promotants that are approved for use in food-producing animals. Hormonal growth implants are strictly regulated for use in animal production systems. Production systems affect both the extrinsic and intrinsic aspects of carcass and meat quality of livestock. Extrinsic aspects that are affected include weight gain, age at slaughter and carcass weight. Concentrate feeding generally yields a more consistent carcass composition than pasture-fed animals, which addresses the  necessity for more consistent meat quality. Intrinsic aspects of animal products that are affected include carcass composition and conformation, carcass fat content and colour, meat composition, colour, tenderness and flavour. Beef and lamb from pastures are darker, and carcass fat contains more yellow pigments, which may affect a consumer’s choice to purchase. The typical pasture flavour in meat is because of the presence of  branched-chain fatty acids, 3-methylindole and other oxidation products, and off-flavours are often detected. In many countries, the meat flavour of intensively fed livestock is preferred to pasture-fed animals, but certain consumers prefer the more intense pasture flavour. Pasture feeding has beneficial effects on n-3 fatty acids, notably eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA, C20:5n-3) and docasahexaenoic acid (DHA, C22:6n-3). Beef and lamb from pasture-fed animals are generally less tender, but shelf life is better, owing to the presence of antioxidants such as vitamin E.

Keywords: Hormonal growth implants, feed additives, antimicrobial implants, carcass quality, meat quality

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eISSN: 2221-4062
print ISSN: 0375-1589