LIVESTOCK producers needed to do all they could before slaughter to improve the eating quality of their animals, because consumers would make them pay if they didn't.
That advice was given at the CSBP pastures conference by Murdoch University production animal research director David Pethick.
Mr Pethick said red meat had natural advantages in world markets because it was high in protein and contained good trace minerals such as Omega 3.
When pasture-based, it was considered cleaner and greener than intensively-produced meats such as chicken and pork.
He said the key factors in the eating quality of red meat were age, intra-muscular fat, muscle glycogen/dark-cutting and muscle fibres.
"Basically younger is better, that goes for beef and lamb," he said.
"Lamb is better than hogget is better than mutton.
"Farmers are always telling me their hogget is better eating, it's not, 40,000 customers told us so, wipe it out!"
He said youth was particularly better for leg cuts, which had more connective tissue because they did more work.
Milk-fed veal was very popular for beef and farmers should produce it if they could make money from it.
He said producers would not receive a premium for intra-muscular fat unless they supplied the Japanese market, which was a predominantly grain rather than grass market.
But the juiciness it produced would attract customers in other markets.
"You should kill it at about 4-5pc intra-muscular fat," he said.
"The minimum level is about 2-3pc before consumers start to tell you it's a bit dry and bland, before they say 'bugger it I'll just go and buy some pork, it's guaranteed to be dry and bland and it's not $8 a kilo!'"
He said muscle glycogen was a key quality attribute for meat.
"Meat with high sugar content helps because it is converted to lactic acid after slaughter, which lowers the pH of the meat," Mr Pethick said.
Low pH reduced dark cutting and produced a bright cherry-red coloured meat, provided more consistent cooking characteristics and improved flavour and keeping quality.
He said pasture-fed cattle had a much higher percentage of dark-cutting than grain-fed cattle, which necessitated grain being introduced to pasture operations at finishing.
He said muscle had both soft fibres and connective tissues, which got tougher as the animal got older.
The faster animals were grown, the more important genetics were.