Using a lamb's early-life liveweight as a predictor of carcass quality

A - Papers appearing in refereed journals

Jones, A. G., Takahashi, T., Fleming, H., Griffith, B. A., Harris, P. and Lee, M. R. F. 2021. Using a lamb's early-life liveweight as a predictor of carcass quality. Animal. 15 (1), p. 100018.

AuthorsJones, A. G., Takahashi, T., Fleming, H., Griffith, B. A., Harris, P. and Lee, M. R. F.

The commercial value of lamb carcasses is primarily determined by their weight and quality, with the latter commonly quantified according to muscle coverage and fat depth. The ability to predict these quality scores early in the season could be of substantial value to sheep producers, as this would enable tailored flock management strategies for different groups of animals. Existing methods of carcass quality prediction, however, require either expensive equipment or information immediately before slaughter, leaving them unsuitable as a decision support tool for small to medium-scale enterprises. Using seven-year high-resolution data from the North Wyke Farm Platform, a system-scale grazing trial in Devon, UK, this paper investigates the feasibility of using a lamb's early-life liveweight to predict the carcass quality realised when the animal reaches the target weight. The results of multinomial regression models showed that lambs which were heavier at weaning, at 13 weeks of age, were significantly more likely to have leaner and more muscular carcasses. An economic analysis confirmed that these animals produced significantly more valuable carcasses at slaughter, even after accounting for seasonal variation in lamb price that often favours early finishers. As the majority of heavier-weaned lambs leave the flock before lighter-weaned lambs, an increase in the average weaning weight could also lead to greater pasture availability for ewes in the latter stage of the current season, and thus an enhanced ewe condition and fertility for the next season. All information combined, therefore, a stronger focus on ewes' nutrition before and during lactation was identified as a key to increase system-wide profitability.

KeywordsConformation; Fat class; Ewe condition; Farm management; Sheep systems
Year of Publication2021
Journal citation15 (1), p. 100018
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Web address (URL)
Open accessPublished as ‘gold’ (paid) open access
FunderBiotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council
Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board
Funder project or codeS2N - Soil to Nutrition - Work package 2 (WP2) - Adaptive management systems for improved efficiency and nutritional quality
The North Wyke Farm Platform- National Capability [2017-22]
System-wide evaluation of pasture-based sheep production: impact and value
Publisher's version
Copyright license
CC BY 4.0
Accepted author manuscript
Supplemental file
Output statusPublished
Publication dates
Online29 Dec 2020
Print01 Jan 2021
Publication process dates
Accepted28 Jul 2020
PublisherCambridge University Press (CUP)

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