A lot of hard work goes into grading our red meat and we take a lot of care to do it correctly.
We use a uniform set of standards to make sure you get the best red meat every time. Take a look at our video to see the process.
Our Silver Fern Farms’ accredited EQ Master Graders are essential to how we hand-select the best red meat. Our Master Graders assess individual carcases to collect attributes which are used in the grading process.
For each graded carcase the ticket is scanned to obtain the carcase weight, date and carcase number. All carcase measurements are entered into our EQ database. Eating quality outcomes for the different cuts of meat are then generated based on the attribute scores.
In addition to standard measures such as carcase weight, a set of specific EQ attributes is taken into account.
The key attributes are:
1. ULTIMATE PH
pH testing measures lactic acid levels and is recorded in conjunction with temperature. Ultimate pH is measured in the ribeye muscle using a pH meter. High pH can have be detrimental to meat colour, texture, shelf life and eating quality. Energy (or glycogen) levels in the animal are key to obtaining a pH within the acceptable range. Minimising stress and ensuring animals have enough energy reserves through adequate finishing will assist in achieving an ideal pH-level.
Marbling is assessed by the amount and distribution of intramuscular fat within the rib-eye muscle. Marbling has a positive effect on eating quality and its influence is greatest across the high value loin cuts. It is the last fat to be deposited and the first to be utilised by the animal as an energy source. To maximise marbling, cattle must be on a high quality diet. Marbling can be improved through genetic selection and farmers should be aware of this characteristic when selecting a sire for their cattle.
The maturity of a carcase is measured by ossification, which is the process of cartilage turning to bone in the vertebrae. As an animal matures, the fibres in the meat become progressively stronger, more rigid and are less likely to be broken down in cooking, resulting in tougher meat. The Silver Fern Farms Eating Quality system relates carcase weight to ossification - effectively a ‘weight for age’ measure. Nutrition plays a significant role in ossification rates. Cattle with fast growth rates will likely have lower ossification.
4. RIB FAT/TOTAL RIB FAT
Rib fat is measured as the depth of subcutaneous fat – the fat between the skin and the meat. For high quality beef subcutaneous fat must be a minimum of 3mm in depth. This standard aims to reduce temperature variation within the carcase muscles during chilling. Evenly chilled meat has a more consistent and predictable eating quality as well as improved visual appearance.
5. MEAT COLOUR
Meat colour is assessed on the chilled carcase at the rib eye muscle area. It is scored against a set of colour reference standards that reflect the bright cherry red colour expected from consumers. Stress can play a significant role in reducing meat colour as it affects meat pH levels, which in turn affects colour.
6. FAT COLOUR
Fat colour measures the colour of the intramuscular fat lateral to the ribeye muscle. Fat colour is determined by the concentration of B-carotene which is found in grass which forms the basis of the diet of New Zealand stock. High levels of B-carotene will cause a more intensive yellow colouring in some animals. Breed and nutrition can influence fat colour.
7. EYE MUSCLE
The area of the eye muscle is measured in square centimetres. While this information is not used as part of the EQ grading process it is believed there is a correlation in this measurement and the value our farmers can gain from their carcases.
What It Takes To Be An EQ Master Grader
Our accredited EQ Master Graders collect individual carcase attributes using a uniform set of standards. They undergo an intensive two week training course and are re-tested every 8 weeks.
Successful graders must achieve a 100% pass rate in their practical assessment and at least a 70% pass rate in their theory assessment.
All measurements are entered into our EQ database. For consistent and accurate grading our certified graders use the following process:
All animals are assessed on the same part of the carcase
Attributes must be assessed within a specified time
A special torch is used to maintain light consistency
The torch must always be held in left hand and be positioned at the correct angle