When we were kids we had lamb for lunch every day. It was home-bred and home-killed, a gruesome process which I stopped as soon as I took over the reins.

My dad routinely assured us that we could never buy lamb in the shops as good. I grew to hate it and wouldn’t touch it for years. About 20 years later I started eating lamb again and now love it.

Blackie lamb off its mother’s milk and heather is my favourite. After it comes off forage rape or grain, it becomes no different from any other.

Throughout my life, to my concern, my own taste has bucked the trend and lamb consumption, despite a good demand from ethnic communities, decreases by the year, both in the UK and in France, our main export market.

A few weeks ago, Andrew Arbuckle wrote a thought provoking and critical article in The Scotsman about our sheep industry. It started 'In other industries, producers champion what they produce. But it seems all too often our sheep farmers refuse to eat lamb, saying that they just don’t like it'.

He wrote of a well-known sheep breed offering barbecued chicken at its annual dinner and about how farmers avoid eating lamb dishes on the menu at farmers meetings. “You will search in vain for home-produced lamb on the menu of restaurants at auction marts, due to lack of demand”. Andrew realised that farmers will grit their teeth at this. Nevertheless, the evidence is there. He quoted a sheep farmer who he regularly meets for dinner and who usually orders chicken: 'It’s not my job to buy lamb, I produce it. It is up to QMS to sell it. That is what I pay my levy for'.

As many sheep producers don’t get The Scotsman, Andrew needn’t expect the sort of flack I received from the meat trade two years ago when I commented on the variability of Scottish steaks when compared with those I have eaten overseas in countries – and which may soon be sending their beef to us, tariff-free. (For those flockmasters who don’t get The Scotsman and want a dose of masochism, Andrew’s article was titled 'Sheep industry needs a champ'.

In 2012, I attended a presentation at the Roslin Institute given by Dr Alex Ball, of Meat and Livestock Australia. He showed that their sheep industry, which has largely changed direction from wool to lamb production, is prospering. When I visited Australia some time after that, I was impressed by the knowledge their pedigree sheep farmers had of the eating quality of the lamb they produced. They were making efforts using modern technology to improve it and consequently increase consumption.

Their concentration on genetics and marketing based on research had reversed the long term decline and demand for lamb is increasing. It would be interesting to know how many of our sheep farmers have done the same, or even thought of it.

Like with charity, our efforts must begin at home. Why don’t we eat lamb more often in our own households? Why don’t we serve it up for visitors? Why don’t we buy it when we eat out? Is it too fat – or too lean? Is it the smell when cooking? Is it the taste?

Can these things be changed by breeding or feeding? Is it entirely up to QMS to market our product? Does our involvement cease when we pay their levy?

I was encouraged by research into the optimum level of intra muscular fat (marbling) in lamb done by the SRUC which was reported in The Scottish Farmer, December 1, issue. IMF has a large influence on eating quality through its influence on taste and tenderness. It was interesting that the optimum level of IMF in lamb, according to the SRUC, was 4.5% which approximates with the Meat and Livestock Australia’s optimum figure of 5%.

At home, we ultrasonically scan our own sheep and CT scan the best ram lambs, a much more complicated and expensive process. Despite that, we don’t really know where we are with IMF.

The more relevant figure we have at present is muscle proportion to body weight as this relates directly to the grades our customers receive when they sell their lambs. Furthermore, we wouldn’t know where to go to find genetics to improve the IMF in our Suffolk and Texel flocks.

This contrasts with our Angus cattle which we scan for IMF and know exactly where we are with it. Well aware of the genetic antagonism between high marbling and carcase grades – as defined by the EUROP system – we try to keep the level of each in our own herd at a pitch where our cattle remain saleable. It boils down to the fact that we have the knowledge to increase IMF quickly, should market incentives change.

The beef demonstration at AgriScot was a credit to its organisers, QMS, the students at Oatridge College (who handled the cattle) and their coach, Neil Sutherland. Our knowledge about the beasts on parade was tested by a questionnaire which we answered by keypad connected to a screen.

This showed how many of us got the correct answer. I got many of the answers wrong, but increased my knowledge. I know now where the topside and silverside are on a beast’s carcase. For those, like me, who didn’t know previously, they are the cuts just above the hock that I knew as the second thigh.

The commentator, master butcher Douglas Scott, told us that these cuts are almost the cheapest he sells in his shop. Mmm .... they are the very bits farmers pay the most for at auction!