Agricultural innovation, research and development, have all contributed to make Mottainai lamb a premium product.
With marbling up to 40 per cent, calling their product “lamb Wagyu” was a master stroke.
But the real genius behind Western Australia’s Mottainai Lamb brand is in the agricultural innovation, research and development, which in about two years has made it a premium product, sought-after around the globe by the likes of the Hyatt and Ritz Carlton hotel group.
So convinced was she of the product’s merits, founder and managing director Suzannah Moss-Wright even quit her job as a chief executive and international trade lawyer.
“A lot of people engage in research and development and don’t find anything. We were lucky things fell together for us and it was better than expected,” Suzannah said.
“We found with our feed ration fed over an eight-week program (which comes from horticultural waste from the farm) the sheepmeat absorbed more healthy fats, which has led to marbling of up to 40 per cent (regular lamb is 3-5 per cent).
“We do not aim to be A5 Wagyu (43.8 per cent), we’ll always aim for A4, which is where the lamb has a smooth clean buttery taste, melting in your mouth.”
Mottainai Lamb, founded four years ago, and launched 15 months ago, is based on a 1220ha farm at Lancelin, north of Perth.
It had 2000 breeding ewes but recently reduced it to 800 to make space to hold more lambs for backgrounding, to keep pace with demand.
The mob is a mix of South African Meat Merino, Charollais, and White Suffolk, joined on either December 1 or March 15 each year.
One of the partners in the business, Red Rooster founder Nick Tana, owns horticultural company Sumich, which means Mottainai Lamb also has access to four olive and almond farms, ranging from 490ha up to 2020ha, where sheep are grazed.
Carve It Up
Mottainai currently processes about 750 lambs a month, grown out to 60-62kg liveweight at eight months.
Because this year it will only supply a quarter of its needs, to meet demand Mottainai have eight partner farms, with lambs brought on to the property aged four months. Suzannah is looking “more for type than specific breed”, with traits including a slower maturing lamb, fine boned, with a large frame.
“We get a lot of farmers approaching us to supply their lambs because they want to be part of this program,” she added.
Suzannah said given there was currently no specific genetic trait for marbling in sheep, Mottainai was undertaking a breeding program, which will conclude in 2022, focusing on yield (especially of the loin cut), intramuscular fat, feed conversion efficiency and temperament.
“By 2022 farmers we buy from will start using rams we have bred,”
“We’re not trying to produce a ‘breed’ to commercialise for everyone, but one that will give us consistency and quality control, which suits our specific feed ration.
“Dorpers, for instance, are a good eating quality, perform well and have marbling, but don’t perform so well on our ration.”
And this — the ration — is the key to Mottainai’s success.
During the eight-week intensive feeding program, each lamb receives a ration of 8kg per day, made up of about 80 per cent organic waste that would otherwise go to landfill, and about 20 per cent lupins, wheat and barley hay.
Nick’s company Sumich is the largest producer, packer and exporter of carrots in the southern hemisphere. It is grown on farms across Western Australia and Tasmania, producing 2500-4000 tonnes a week to domestic and export markets, in addition to producing olive oil, almonds, celery and onions. As such, unsaleable carrots, green carrot leaf, carrot pomace (a by-product from juicing), and sedimentary olive oil and oil pomace is blended into the feed ration.
“It’s a sustainable way to feed this highly digestible fibre to lambs,” Suzannah said.
“It means our lamb is the only lamb meat in the world that is comparable to the second-highest grade of Japanese Wagyu beef, with about a third of these fats healthy, beneficial oleic and omega-3 fatty acids.”
Lambs are processed at V&V Walsh in Bunbury, with all meat then 100 per cent branded, and direct marketed by Suzannah, the former chief executive of the Australian Arab Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Mottainai Lamb’s first sales were to international customers, and exports now make up 70 per cent of trade, including to the US, Asia, Maldives, and United Arab Emirates.
In Australia it only sells retail in Perth and this year will launch an online retail arm, selling in the US, Australia and potentially Singapore.
Suzannah said while the lamb fetched between 10 to 30 per cent more than the commodity lamb price, they were recognised as a premium product more for their sustainability ethos. “Because we change the meat eating quality, our legs, for example, taste better than most people’s racks, so chefs are more willing to innovate with all the cuts.”
She said Mottainai Lamb’s ethos were summed up in the five Rs — reduce, reuse, recycle, respect and reconnect.
“Mottainai is a Japanese word that means interacting with the world so we appreciate what exists, treat it as precious, and make full use of its potential,” she said. “Reconnection is about authenticity, that people genuinely trust in what farmers produce and want to support change.”
Suzannah, who grew up on a sheep and cattle farm in NSW, now lives on the Lancelin farm, overseeing research and management with her husband, Deon Moss, and four staff (three others work off-farm in Perth).
She was working as Nick’s lawyer when she first visited a Sumich farm, telling Nick the crop waste by-product could feed livestock. Not long after she stopped her law practice to develop Mottainai:.
“I believe Australia can’t continue with commodities, we need to differentiate our product,” she said.
“We need to demonstrate change in agriculture is possible.”