Livestock Research for Rural Development 28 (6) 2016 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

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Effect of pasture type on Timahdite lamb quality as a traditional product of the middle atlas in Morocco

Asma Boughalmi, Abdelilah Araba, Saïd Chatibi and Mohamed Yessef

Hassan II Institute of Agronomy and Veterinary Medicine, 6202 Madinat Al Irfane, Rabat Morocco


The aim of this study was to determine the effect of grazing on two type of pastures with different botanical composition on carcass traits and meat quality of Timahdite lambs in the Middle Atlas area of Morocco. Two 10 female lamb groups were raised on a steppe pasture (P1) and a forestry pasture (P2) during three months and then slaughtered at the age of 179 ± 2 days and at a mean live weight of 23.3 ± 3.6 kg. Carcass conformation and the instrumental and sensory meat qualities were evaluated.

Results showed no significant effect of pasture type neither on carcass quality, except carcass compactness index (P < 0.05) which was 0.15 kg/cm in P1 group and 0.18 kg/cm in P2, nor on ultimate-pH, WHC and semi-membranous muscle color (P > 0.05). Furthermore, no differences in sensory characteristics of lamb meat were discerned by the panel tasters, except for tenderness criterion (P < 0.05) which was scored 4.29 and 3.70 for P1 and P2, respectively. Lamb meat from the steppe pasture was more tender than that from the forestry one. However, instrumental texture meat evaluation did not confirm the taste tests’ results. Based on these results, grazing on two pastures, steppe and forestry ones, with different botanical composition in the Middle Atlas area affect significantly the carcass compactness and the consumer’s perception of tenderness, but did not affected the traditional physical characteristics of Timahdite meat quality.

Keywords: carcass quality, forest, meat, steppe


Traditional foods are often considered healthy and wholesome (European Commission 2007). They are linked to regional specificities, cultural and gastronomic heritage. They may offer to the consumer a high quality product (Vanhonacker et al 2008) and play an important economic role in rural regions. Production and sale of this kind of product provide a decisive economic input to many regions (European Commission 2007) and can contribute to the diversification of the rural areas, preventing them from depopulation (Guerrero et al 2009). During the last few years, public interest in better nutrition quality and healthier products has significantly increased (Verbeke et al 2010; Hocquette et al 2012). Consequently, the need for healthy foods provided by the traditional made products gaining a growing interest particularly in industrialized countries (European Commission 2007; Guerrero et al 2010). The concept of traditional food was sparsely defined in the literature and was summed up by Guerrero et al (2009) as ‘‘a product frequently consumed or associated with specific celebrations and/or seasons, normally transmitted from one generation to another, made accurately in a specific way according to the gastronomic heritage, with little or no processing/manipulation, distinguished and known because of its sensory properties and associated with a certain local area, region or country’’

Lamb meat has all the features pointed out by Guerrero et al (2009) in order to be considered as a traditional product. In North Africa and specially in Morocco, its consumption is closely linked to the habits of populations and the processing and the sensory properties are often specific for this product category (Sañudo et al 2007) and the origin of the product is often known and needs to be labelled.

Lamb meat quality was the subject of many studies in the worldwide during the last decade (Pethick et al 2005; Prache et al 2011, Komprda et al 2012). However in Morocco few studies have deled with this subject (Araba et al 2009). Most of them have interested more to the lambs’ carcass quality than the meat quality (El Fadili 2002, El Fadili 2009). In fact, the quality of this meat depends on several intrinsic and extrinsic factors i.e. age, sex, animal breed l and the feeding system, which is usually based on concentrates, pasture and mixed diets (Pethick et al 2005; Komprda et al 2012). Indeed, pasture-based feeding system has acquired importance since it provides a nutritional and lean meat. Meats from grass-fed animals are higher in n-3 fatty acids and tend to be lower in saturated fatty acids, compared to conventional meats (Wood et al 2003; Scerra et al 2007). Currently, for some markets, the feeding system is a decisive factor for meat purchasing where grass-fed animals are the most preferred, especially when information about production system is provided (Font I Furnols et al 2011). In Morocco, lambs’ meat is traditionally purchased along the year especially in summer when ceremonies are relatively frequent. Traditional dishes like “Tagine” and roasted lamb meat are prepared at household level. Thus, it is beneficial if such dish could be linked to a story, like being meat from mountain or steppe pasture with distinct qualities (special flavor, fatty acid composition, minimum drug treatment, and ethical production system), to valorize local and traditional lamb meat. Seasonal marketing of meat from lambs slaughtered from different types of natural pastures could also increase interest and sale. Based on these perceptions, several studies (Prache et al 2011) addressed the question regarding of the relationship between the feeding system and the quality of ovine meat. However, there is relatively little information available on the differences in lamb meat and carcass quality when produced on different types of pastures. In this connection, the aim of the present study is to determine the effect of feeding strategy in two different pastures on the main parameters of quality in traditional ovine meat and carcass of local sheep raised in the Eastern Middle Atlas area in Morocco.

Material and methods

Area of the study

This study was conducted in the Middle Atlas mountain area (Boulemane province, Morocco) on two different pastures where sheep are raised under the agro-silvo-pastoral system. The first one (P1) is a steppe pasture which is located in an intermediary zone between the mountain and pre-Saharan area of Boulemane province. It is characterized by a dry climate (average rainfall: 250 mm/year) and dominated by the Poa sp and Artemisia herba-alba plant species and a lower proportions of Stipa tenassissima, Thymus ciliates, Hordeum murinum and Perganum harmala.

The second one (P2) is a forestry pasture. It is characterized by high temperatures in summer and a cooler and snowing climate in winter (average rainfall: 475 mm/year) and harbored as predominant plants Quercus rotundifolia, along with various shrubs species like Thymelaea sp and Genista quadriflora, and lower proportions of herbs (Scorzonera pygmaea).

Animals and feeding

A total of 20 weaned female lambs (age and live-weight averaged 89±2 days, and 15.3 ±1.7 kg respectively ) of Timahdite breed, from a same agro-silvo-pastoral farm, were used in this experiment. At weaning, they were assigned to two pasture types (n=10), a steppe one (P1) and forestry one (P2). The trial lasted three months, from March until Mai 2014, when the lambs were slaughtered and sampled at age of 179±2 days and a mean live weight of 23.3 ±3.6 kg. Lambs were weighed at the beginning and the end of the trial.

Lambs have been exclusively grazing with their mother before the trial. No supplementary feeding was provided during the trial.

The average of daily grazing duration is 12 hours for P2 lambs and 9 hours for P1 lambs. At noon, water was distributed in tanks for flocks grazed on P1 while animals grazed on P2 drunk from the available natural water sources.

Carcass measurements

Lambs were slaughtered as the Muslim Halal way by severing the throat and the major blood vessels in the neck, to assure maximum bleeding, on two successive days. Animals had access to water until approximately 12 hours before slaughtering and then were transported by truck for a distance of 15 km to the slaughterhouse.

Immediately after slaughtering, hot carcasses were weighed and the dressing percentages were calculated as follows: HCW/SLW (%) = Hot carcass weight x 100/slaughter live weight. Measurements on carcasses were carried out using a ribbon and a distance gauge to determine carcass conformation indices as cited by Bonvillani et al (2010): internal carcass length (L: length from cranial edge of the symphysis pelvis to the cranial edge of the first rib), carcass compactness (HCW/L), hind limb length (F: length from perineum to distal edge of the tarsus), buttock width (G: widest buttock measurements in a horizontal plane on the hanging carcass) and hind limb compactness ( G/F).

Meat quality assessment and subcutaneous fat color

The carcasses were let for 6h at ambient temperature and then transported to a cold room set to 4°C. Semimembranous muscles of the right legs were excised to measure meat color and pH and then wrapped with an oxygen permeable film without contact with meat surface and kept in the dark at 4ºC.

A Minolta CR410 spectro-colorimeter was used to obtain L*, a*, and b* readings on caudal subcutaneous fat and semimembranous muscle color. Caudal subcutaneous fat from the tail root recorded, at 0 and 24h post mortem, at three locations randomly selected but avoiding blood blots, discolorations and less covered areas. Muscle color measured at cutting time (0 h) and after 24 h of air exposure. Values were recorded at two locations randomly selected from the cranial surface of each piece to obtain a representative mean value, and color was measured with the samples resting on a white surface. Additional reflectance data collected include Hue angle H*, a measurement where a vector radiates into the red-yellow quadrant, and the color saturation index Chroma C*.These indices were calculated according to Murray (1995), as:

Hue angle= arctangent (b*/a*) x [360°/(2x3.14)]


Chroma= (a*²+b*²)0.5.

At 0, 12 and 24h after cutting time, pH was measured by a meat pH-meter and samples of 20 g from every semimembranous muscle were taken to determine the Water Holding Capacity (WHC) according to Grau and Hamm (1953) method.

Tenderness measurements

Warner-Bratzler shear force evaluation of tenderness was measured using the Lab Pro Tenderometer. The hardness of the meat is expressed by the maximum value of this force.

Portions of the semi-membranous muscle of approximately 100 g were individually cooked in a water bath at 70°C in weighted plastic bags until the internal meat temperature reached 75°C (approximately 50 min). Samples (10 mm x 10 mm) were prepared and were placed one after another in the shear cell for measuring the maximum force. The blade evolved over a distance of 35 mm at a speed of 60 mm / min. For each sample, five measurements were performed.

Meat sensory evaluation

Gigots from each group (P1 and P2) were vacuum-packed at 24 h post mortem and stored at 4C° until 4 days post mortem to be used to carry out two tastes tests: scoring and triangle tests.

Taste scoring test was used to evaluate the intensity of different sensory parameters using a scoring grid for each one, whereas the triangle test was used to detect differences between the two meat origins. Thick pieces were prepared by slow cooking as the Moroccan traditional dash “Tagine” during 1.30 hour then served warm with its sauce to 20 panelists. During two sessions, panelists evaluated two samples presented at randomized order. They were asked to evaluate the level of tenderness (scale 1–5; 1 = extremely tough, 5 = extremely tender), juiciness (scale 1–5; 1 = extremely dry, 5 = extremely juicy) and meat flavor (scale 1–5; 1 = very poor, 5 = very good) using a scoring grid for each parameter. Bread and water were provided for panelists to freshen the mouths between each two samples

After the last session of the scoring test, the same panelists were asked to evaluate the sensory meat quality from the two pastures using the triangle test. They evaluated 3 samples, where 2 alike, presented at randomized order in plates with three labeled letter codes. They were asked to determine which sample is different from the three presented.

Statistical analysis

Analysis of variance was performed using GLM procedure (SAS 1997). The effect of the pasture as a fixed effect on all variables was analyzed according to the following model: Yij = m + Mi + Eij, where Yij is the variable analyzed; m is the overall mean, Mi is the effect of pasture (i = 1, 2). Individual animals were considered as experimental units. The Student-Newman Keul's test was used to separate least squares means when significant main effects were detected.

For the triangle test, the significance thresholds were evaluated according to the Norme AFNOR (2002), which shows in its first table the minimum number of correct answers that make a significant difference at different levels for the triangle test (5%, 1% and 1 ‰).


Carcass traits and subcutaneous fat color

Mean values for live weight at slaughter, carcass characteristics and subcutaneous fat color per pasture group are given in Table 1. Lambs on the P1 pasture group gained little weight, ADG= 0.067vs. 0.106 kg realized by the P1 and P2 lambs, during the trial and were significantly lighter at slaughter compared to the lambs from P2 pasture group (P=0.002). However, there were no significant differences in carcass weight and in dressing percentages between the two pastures lambs. Similarly, grazed pasture did not affect the hind limb compactness (P>0.5) while it significantly affected the carcass compactness index (P=0.006). Lambs raised on P1 presented lower HCW/L ratio than those raised on the P2 (0.15 vs. 0.18 kg/cm, respectively). On the other hand, there were no differences in the subcutaneous fat color coordinates (L*a*b*) at 0 and 24 h.

Table 1. Effect of type of pasture on live weight at slaughter, carcass characteristics and subcutaneous fat color of
Timahdite lambs grazing on steppe and forestry pastures (P1 and P2) in the Middle Atlas area





Number of lambs





Initial weight (kg)





Final weight (kg)





ADG (kg)





Carcass traits

SLW (kg)





HCW (kg)





G (cm)





F (cm)





L (cm)















HCW/L (kg/cm)





Subcutaneous fat color

































P1= steppe pasture; P2=forestry pasture; SE =standard error.
ADG = average daily gain; SLW = slaughter live weight; HCW = hot carcass weight; L = internal carcass length;
F = hind limb length; G = buttock width; HCW = hot carcass weight; HCW/L = carcass compactness;
G/F = hind limb compactness; L* = Lightness; a* = Redness index; b* = Yellowness index

a.b Values within a row with different superscripts differ significantly at P≤0.05.

Meat instrumental quality

Table 2, presenting results on meat instrumental characteristics and sensory quality, shows that data regarding meat pH (at 0, 12 and 24h), fat and meat color, cooking losses (expressed by the water holding capacity) and texture, were not significantly affected by the type of pasture.

The CIE L*a*b* color coordinates, i.e. lightness, redness, yellowness, chroma, and hue angle, are also listed in Table 2. Lightness increased from 0 h to 24 h and no significant differences between treatments were observed.

For both treatments, redness values a* increased within the 24h after cutting time. However, the type of pasture did not affect this parameter (P>0.05). Yellowness and hue angle values increased also and differences were observed at cutting time (0h). Grazing lambs on P1 had higher b* and H* values than P2 lambs at 0 h (P=0.020). However, those differences disappeared with the blooming process. At the 24h after cutting timeb* and H* values were stabilized and no significant effects were observed (P>0.05). With regards to the chroma (saturation) C* value, there were no significant effect of type of pasture neither at 0h nor at 24h (P>0.05).

Meat sensory quality

Results of the triangle test (Table 2) showed that there was no difference between the three samples of lamb meat. The number of correct answers needed to conclude the presence of a difference, with a certainty of 95%, was not reached. Indeed, for a panelist of 20 persons a minimum number of correct answers to establish a significant difference is 11 according to the Norme AFNOR (2002), while in the present test this number refer to 8 correct answers only.

Least square means for the sensory attributes of the M. semimembranosus samples are also presented in Table 2. All sensory quality characteristics, except tenderness, were similar (P>0.05) for both treatments P1 and P2. The sensory test results showed that panelists preferred meat from P1 lambs than that from P2 lambs, due to its high tenderness. Indeed, it was classified as very tender meat by 49% of panelists, while only 15% of them indicated this criterion for meat from P2. Our results showed that lamb meat tenderness differed significantly between the two pastures P1 and P2 (P=0.007), while similar juiciness and flavor were detected for the two meats (P > 0.05). In fact, both of them were classified as moderately to juicy meat with a good flavor by the majority of panelists (Table 2).

Similarly, there was no effect of the type of grazed pasture on the texture of Timahdite lambs’ meat. The shear force values were similar for both treatments (P > 0.05) and were not linear with the taste test results.

Table 2. Influence of type of pasture on the instrumental characteristics and sensory quality of semimembranous
muscle of Timahdite lambs grazing on steppe and forestry pastures (P1 and P2) in the Middle Atlas area





Number of lambs





Instrumental characteristics

pH 0h















Meat color





















































Water Holding Capacity (%)





Shear force (N)





Sensory characteristics
















P1 = steppe pasture; P2 = forestry pasture; SE = standard error.
L* = Lightness; a* = Redness index; b* = Yellowness index; H* = Hue angle; C* = Chroma;
a.b Values within a row with different superscripts differ significantly at P≤0.05.


Carcass traits and subcutaneous fat color

Difference in slaughter weight between P1 and P2 lambs’ groups might be related to the abundance of pasture on the mountain area after snow melting compared to the steppe area.

In the present study, linear carcass measurements and indexes are presented as indicators of carcass conformation and size. The similar dressing percentages of the two lambs’ group is likely related to the same slaughter age (Varela et al 2004) and lamb’s breed reared in the same production system. Indeed, the found dressing percentages were with the standard average proportion cited by Boujenane (2005), who found a value of 48.1%, for the Timahdite breed reared in the extensive production system and slaughtered at an average age of 221 days.

Furthermore, the difference in the carcass compactness index can be explained by the linear carcass measurements. Carrasco et al (2009) noted that decreased carcass compactness in grazing lambs might be attributed to higher longitudinal measurements (e.g. internal carcass length) in these lambs. Similarly, the lowest carcass compactness in P1 lambs in the current study was probably the reflection of the highest internal carcass length. In addition, carcass weight variation might explain this difference in carcass compactness index between the two groups since Mourad et al (2001) have found a positive and significant correlation between these two parameters. This relationship was also confirmed in the present study.

On the other hand, carcass’s subcutaneous fat color is frequently evaluated based on yellowness and lightness coordinates. Subcutaneous fat yellowness is often related to the carotenoids deposited in the fat as a consequence of pasture intake (Carrasco et al 2009). As there were no changes in this parameter in the current trial, we may conclude that carotenoid deposition in lamb fat was not enough to modify its yellowness.

Meat instrumental quality

The ultimate meat pH may affect several instrumental and sensory quality characteristics of meat i.e. color, texture, and water-holding capacity. Thus it is accepted and used to be the main indicator of meat quality at the commercial level (Miller 2002).

In the present study, P1 and P2 meat pH had decreased from 6.45 and 6.47 at 0h to 5.68 and 5.45 at 24h after cutting time, respectively. This pH decrease is linked to the accumulation of lactic acid resulting from the postmortem glycolysis (Chambers and Grandin 2001). The mean meat ultimate-pH values obtained for lambs from P1 and P2 might be considered within the desired range for quality meat production. Hedrick et al (1989) reported that the normal ultimate meat pH values range between 5.5 and 5.8.Several factors may influence the level of ultimate meat pH, such as stress responses of animals due to pre-slaughter handling, glycogen storage and muscle physiology (ErgulEkiz and Yalcintan, 2013). The found results are not in line with those found by Moujahed et al (2015) who found that the type of pasture affected significantly the ultimate-pH and the color’s parameters. Absence of significant differences between lambs from mountain and steppe pastures in terms of meat pH levels may indicate that the investigated grass-lambs in the study had similar muscle glycogen contents. This implies in turn that the pre-slaughter handling and the slaughtering procedure were not stressful enough to modify the meat pH. Indeed the short distance (15 km), spent on short time (15 min), separated the two farms from the local slaughterhouse likely minimized the impact of the pre-slaughter causes of stress on the depletion of glycogen depots (Varela et al 2004).

Thus, the absence of significant differences between groups concerning the cooking losses of lamb’s meat, shear force value and meat color could be related to similar ultimate pH levels (Devine et al 1993). The Shear force results imply that both P1 and P2 lambs’ meat can be classified as “good”, since their shear forces values were under than 40 N (Hopkins et al 2006).

Meat color is an important characteristic used by the consumer to evaluate the freshness and quality of meat at the point of purchase (Priolo et al 2001). Meat with a lightness (L*) value above 44 was acceptable by 95% of consumers, and below 34 was unacceptably dark for consumers (Khliji et al 2010). In the two studied groups, lightness ranged between 40 and 45 at 0 h and 24 h, respectively, which come within the range of acceptability by consumers.

In the present study, the absence of statistical significance in instrumental meat quality could be due to the small number of animals investigated (Dell et al 2002).

Meat sensory quality

Tenderness, flavor and juiciness are the most important sensory attributes in overall acceptability (Safari et al 2001). The panelist’s perception of tenderness can be explained by the difference in slaughter live weight of P1 and P2 lambs. Indeed, meat from lighter lambs was usually evaluated by panelists as tender than that from heavier ones ( Martínez-Cerezo et al 2005).

Values from 1 to 5 expressed the increase appreciation of panelists to the presented samples. The attributes ranged from 3.38 to 4.29 indicating a moderate to a good like for the evaluated samples. Flavor is one of the most important factors determining the choice of lamb meat by consumers (Corcoran et al 2001). Generally consumers in Mediterranean countries reject the intense flavor meat (Prescott et al 2004). However, in the present study panelist appreciated the meat flavor and did not indicate the presence of intense flavor. This may be related to the young age (6 months) and the sex of animals since Channon et al (1997) reported that flavor intensity is greater in males than in females and the differences being more evident in adult than in young animals.

On the other hand, several previous studies of lamb meat have reported a high correlation between shear force and tenderness, as determined by the taste panel (Devine et al 1993; Safari et al 2001), which we did not find in this work.



This work was carried out under the project ARIMNet-DoMEsTIc ( with the financial support of the Ministry of Higher Education, Scientific Research and Professional Training (Morocco).


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Received 22 January 2016; Accepted 1 May 2016; Published 2 June 2016

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