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News Article

Early-life performance predicts lamb carcass quality

Study finds that lambs heavier at weaning have leaner and more muscular carcasses

Researchers based at Rothamsted and the University of Bristol Veterinary School have found a link between the weight of lambs early in their life and meat quality. The study shows that lambs which are heaviest at the point of weaning go on to produce the leanest, most sought-after meat at market. Their findings are published in Animal.

The researchers say this knowledge will allow farmers to concentrate on giving their flock the best start in life, as well as looking to breed for lambs that are heavier once weaned.

In addition to producing a better quality of meat, these heavier lambs are also ready earlier in the season when demand is highest and therefore attract premium prices at market.

Lead author and PhD student Andy Jones, said, “We’ve shown that the leanness of lamb meat is determined very early in an animal’s life.

“Given that the majority of lambs’ pre-weaning nutrition comes in the form of ewe milk, it is now likely that carcass quality is also affected by management of ewes during pregnancy and lactation. On the other hand, how to manage lambs once weaned may not be as important as those early life experiences.”

The study was carried out at Rothamsted’s ‘farm lab’, the North Wyke Farm Platform in Devon, where data was collected from 2,963 sheep over seven grazing seasons from 2011 to 2017. Lambs were produced by a mixed age flock (2-8 years) of Suffolk x Mule ewes, mated to terminal sires over a 6-week period in October and November each year.

The research team found that the leanness and musculature of lamb meat can both be successfully predicted from the growth pattern of the animal before weaning.

Lambs heavier at weaning, typically at 13 weeks of age, were assessed to be the highest quality at market and as such returned significantly greater profits.

The authors note that all lambs from the study were of a comparable breed type, and not all findings may be immediately translatable to the entire sheep industry.

Article: Jones, A. G., Takahashi, T., Fleming, H., Griffith, B. A., Harris, P., Lee, M. (2020). Using a lamb's early-life liveweight as a predictor of carcass quality. Animal, 100018, doi: 10.1016/j.animal.2020.100018

Article details

  • Date
  • 25 January 2021
  • Source
  • University of Bristol
  • Subject(s)
  • Animal nutrition