The effects of live weight at weaning on carcass composition were studied with 104 Scottish Blackface lambs offered two diets differing in protein: energy ratio. Groups of lambs were slaughtered at initial live weights of 24·1 (s.e. 1·48) kg (LL) and 28·9 (s.e. 1·67) kg (IL) and at 33 kg, 38 kg, 43 kg, 53 kg and mature live weight.
Lambs were offered two diets — low protein: energy ratio (LP, 122 g crude protein (CP) per kg dry matter (DM): 10·4 MJ metabolizable energy (ME) per kg DM) and high protein: energy ratio (HP, 176 g CP per kg DM: 10·4 MJ ME per kg DM). The LP diet was offered ad libitum and the HP diet was restricted to a similar mean level. Muscle, fat and bone tissues in the carcass were separated and weighed and the carcass and non-carcass component tissues were analysed for chemical fat, protein and ash.
Daily live-weight gain (DLWG) of HP lambs (148 (s.e. 8·1) g/day) was significantly higher than that of LP lambs (118 (s.e. 8·1) g/day; P < 0·05) and food conversion ratios were lower up to a live weight of 43 kg (P < 0·05). There were no differences in intake or DLWG between LL and IL lambs. Mature live weight (73·3 (s.e. 1·79) kg) was not related to weaning weight or post-weaning diet.
There was no effect of diet on carcass composition at any slaughter weight but LL lambs had a higher fat proportion than IL lambs, which was significant (P < 0·05) at 33 kg only. During the feeding period, the increment of fat tissue per unit increase in live weight (348 (s.e. 15·8) g/kg LW) was not affected by live weight at the start of the diet. The difference between LL and IL lambs in fat proportion was directly related to the difference in weight gain required to reach slaughter weight. The difference was not a function of stage of maturity but only of weaning weight, itself largely determined by pre-weaning nutrition. At higher slaughter weights the relative difference decreased and became non-significant. Hence lambs lighter at weaning would be less suitable than heavier lambs for the production of light-weight lean carcasses.