Headwaters lambs on S11 north

Increasing the healthy fat in lamb

Lambs finished on chicory-based diets have higher concentrations of omega fatty acids than those finished on ryegrass pasture, concluded Natalie Howes, who recently submitted her PhD thesis at the University of Otago.

Omega fatty acids are essential fatty acids that the body needs for its role in human health. Natalie’s PhD investigated the effect of using novel forages to increase omega content in New Zealand lamb.

Her research is a significant contribution to the “Omega Lamb Project” – a Primary Growth Partnership programme involving the Ministry for Primary Industries, Alliance Group, and Headwaters NZ.

It aims to help NZ provide markets with a new class of lamb with improved taste and health qualities.

Natalie found that finishing ‘Omega Project’ lambs on a chicory x red clover diet increased the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acid content by 38% and 40% respectively – compared to ryegrass pasture, and improved growth rates and carcass weights, but these were not the drivers of the fatty acid results.

“Animal genetics, plant cultivars, and the composition of the diet are the main contributing factors,” Natalie explains.

In combination with the genetic influence, it is likely that there is a complex dietary interaction occurring in the rumen that enables these lambs to uptake higher concentrations of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

These findings reinforced the industry message that generous, high-quality feed allocations and genetic improvement go a long way in producing lamb of exceptional quality.

Natalie comments that producing high-omega lamb also requires strict animal management, intensive monitoring, and selected genetics.

These aspects can be challenging under adverse climatic conditions, but with the right farm system, sufficient planning, and enthusiasm, these criteria can be met.

Natalie's PhD was based at AbacusBio, in collaboration with Alliance Group, Headwaters NZ, Beef + Lamb New Zealand Genetics, AgResearch, and Agricom.