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

A G Jones, T Takahashi*, H Fleming, B A Griffith, P Harris, M R F Lee

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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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.
Original languageEnglish
Article number100018
Number of pages8
Early online date29 Dec 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 29 Dec 2020


  • Conformation
  • Fat class
  • Ewe condition
  • Farm management
  • Sheep system


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