THE Merino lamb industry is expected to benefit from new research into increasing lamb quality by reducing the amount of dark firm dry (DFD) meat. Veterinarian Dr Robin Jacob plans to test strategies that can be used before slaughter to reduce the incidence of DFD in Merino lambs. DFD meat in lambs in caused by stress, which usually occurs at the farm or saleyards and when lambs are transported. In some cases, 25 per cent of lambs in a line have DFD meat, and in some cases more than 80pc of carcases have DFD meat. DFD is a major quality problem for the lamb industry because consumers reject the darker meat. Dr Jacobs said the dark meat was visually unattractive to consumers, was tough and had a shorter shelf life. "Carcases also have a lower dressing percentage, which directly affects the farmer," Dr Jacob said. "Better coloured Merino meat will allow better markets for product and so more favourable prices." DFD is caused by low muscle sugar (glycogen) at the time of slaughter. To combat this problem, Dr Jacob is testing two strategies, one that blocks the rush of adrenalin and one which replaces lost sugar. The first trial looks at feeding lambs magnesium salts, which blocks adrenalin by preventing muscle sugar being used up in the response to stress. Dr Jacob said the salts could be administrated through the grain being fed to the lambs for the four days before slaughter. The second trial will look at feeding energy concentrates, such as glycerol and glucose, which replace lost muscle sugar. Dr Jacob said the ideal situation would be for the abattoirs to put the glycerol in the water system to help stop the DFD. Dr Jacobs is half way through two trials at Quairading and Pingelly but is still looking for more farms to hold the trials. Dealing with Merinos is nothing new to Dr Jacob, who owns a veterinary consultancy business and has worked for Agriculture WA for 16 years. He provides a service to Rondalea Merino stud, Wickepin, where he provides John Foss's clients with information and various tests on their sheep. Dr Jacob is completing the research at Murdoch University under a National Australia Bank scholarship and is following on from some of the work researcher Graham Gardiner has already done on sheep and cattle.