Skip to main content Accessibility help

Nutrition of the Finishing lamb

  • G. M. Webster (a1) and Gillian M. Povey (a1)


In order to achieve maximum economic returns, the finished-lamb producer needs to plan his production system to meet the requirements of his chosen market. These requirements are now becoming more specific as consumer demands for a quality product increase and new markets (e.g. Europe) become available. With the diversity of genetic and environmental backgrounds of lambs destined for slaughter, together with the seasonality of breeding in sheep, it is not surprising that a range of finishing systems exists. This paper highlights recent developments in the nutrition of the finishing lamb and examines their potential.

In the early lambing flock, where fast growth rates are essential, lambs are often weaned when they are 4 to 6 weeks old. Similarly, in flocks lambing more than once per year, early weaning is necessary to allow the ewe to recover body condition before the next mating. Cereals are rich sources of energy and highly palatable to young lambs. Their rapid rate of fermentation in the rumen makes intensive finishing on cereal-based diets a relatively easy process, with growth rates of 350 to 400 g/day allowing lambs to reach slaughter weight at 12 to 14 weeks of age. To avoid the production of soft fat, which arises from high levels of propionic acid in the rumen, cereals should be offered as whole grains. Considerable benefits in terms of growth rate may be achieved by the inclusion of high quality protein sources of low rumen degradability, such as fish meal, in the diet.

The use of fodder crops grazed in situ for finishing store lambs has declined in recent years with the result that interest in indoor finishing systems has increased. These systems based on concentrate foods result in rapid growth rates. Alternatively, silage-based diets with appropriate supplements may be used to produce more modest growth rates, allowing lambs to be taken to heavier weights. Maintenance feeding during the store period has a major influence on the response of these lambs to improved nutrition, particularly to protein of low rumen degradability. Environmental limitations such as shortening daylength may also be an important consideration.

Lamb carcass quality is becoming increasingly important in market specifications and the ability of lambs to produce more lean and less fat has been demonstrated in experiments involving pharmacological manipulation. While these techniques may not be acceptable to the consumer, the potential to enhance carcass composition by dietary means clearly still exists.



Hide All
Agricultural Research Council. 1980. The Nutrient Requirements of Ruminant Livestock. Commonwealth Agricultural Bureaux, Slough.
Armstrong, D. G. 1989. Manipulation of body composition through nutrition, hormones, betaagonists and immunological processes. In Información Técnica Económica Agraria, Volumen Extra No. 9, III Jornadas Sobre Produccion Animal, pp. 1946. Asociacion Interprofesional Para El Desarrollo Agrario.
Black, J. L. 1983. Growth and development of lambs. In Sheep Production (ed. Haresign, W.), pp. 2158. Butterworths, London.
Brinklow, B. R., Jones, R. and Forbes, J. M. 1984. The effect of daylength on the growth of lambs. 5. Skeletal photoperiod. Animal Production 38: 455461.
Butler, G. 1985. Silage for lamb finishing. In Hill and Upland Livestock Production (ed. Maxwell, T. J. and Gunn, R. G.). Occasional Publication, British Society of Animal Production, No. 10, pp. 140141.
Butler-Hogg, B. W. and Johnsson, I. D. 1987. Bovine growth hormone in lambs: effects on carcass composition and tissue distribution in crossbred females. Animal Production 44:117124.
Duncan, W. R. H., Ørskov, E. R. and Garton, G. A. 1972. Fatty acid composition of triglycerides of lambs fed on barley-based diets. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 31: 19A-20A (Abstr.).
Emmans, G. C., Cropper, M., Dingwall, W. S., Brown, H., Oldham, J. D. and Harland, J. I. 1989. Efficiencies of use of the metabolizable energy from foods based on barley or sugar-beet feed in immature sheep. Animal Production 48: 634635 (Abstr.).
Fattet, I., Hovell, F. D. Deb., Ørskov, E. R., Kyle, D. J., Pennie, K. and Smart, R. I. 1984. Undernutrition in sheep. The effect of supplementation with protein on protein accretion. British Journal of Nutrition 52: 561574.
Fitzgerald, J. J. 1987. Finishing store lambs on silage-based diets. 4. Effects of stage of grass growth when ensiled and barley supplementation on silage intake and lamb performance. Irish Journal of Agricultural Research 26: 139151.
Fitzgerald, S. 1983. The use of forage crops for store lamb fattening. In Sheep Production (ed. Haresign, W.), pp. 239286. Butterworths, London.
Forbes, J. M. 1982. Effects of lighting pattern on growth, lactation and food intake of sheep, cattle and deer. Livestock Production Science 9:361374.
Forbes, J. M., Elshahat, A. A., Jones, R., Duncan, J. G. S. and Boaz, T. G. 1979. The effect of daylength on the growth of lambs. 1. Comparisons of sex, level of feeding, shearing and breed of sire. Animal Production 29: 3342.
Hanrahan, J. P. 1987. Beta-Agonists and Their Effects on Animal Growth and Carcass Quality. Elsevier, London.
Haresign, W., Mcleod, B. J., Webster, G. M. and Worthy, K. 1985. Endocrine basis of seasonal anoestrus in sheep. In Endocrine Causes of Seasonal and Lactational Anoestrus in Farm Animals (ed. Ellendorff, F. and Elsaesser, F.). pp. 618. Kluwer-Nijhoff, Dordrecht.
Harker, A. and Cuddeford, D. 1987. The role of magnesium in the aetiology of urolithiasis in fattening store lambs and intensively-reared lambs. Animal Production 44: 482 (Abstr.).
Hassan, S. A. and Bryant, M. J. 1986. The response of store Iambs to protein supplementation of a roughage-based diet. Animal Production 42: 7379.
Jones, R., Forces, J. M., Slade, C. F. R. and Appleton, M. 1982. The effect of daylength on the growth of lambs. 4. Daylength extension to 20 h under practical conditions. Animal Production 35: 914.
Kempster, A. J. 1989. Carcass and meat quality research to meet market needs. Animal Production 48: 483496.
Lamming, G. E. and Peters, A. R. 1987. Future developments in the manipulation of growth in farm animals. Veterinary Record 120: 495499.
Mcewan, J. C. and Hanrahan, J. P. 1985. Summary of sheep production trials using βagonists. An Foras Talúntais, Animal Production Research Report 1985, pp. 89.
Marchment, S. M. and Miller, E. L. 1985. Voluntary food intake and growth responses in store lambs given protein supplements to grass silage. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 44: 47A (Abstr.).
Meat and Livestock Commission. 1988. Sheep Yearbook. Meat and Livestock Commission, Milton Keynes.
Meat and Livestock Commission. 1989. Sheep in Britain. Meat and Livestock Commission, Milton Keynes.
Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. 1975. Energy allowances and feeding systems for ruminants. Technical Bulletin 33. Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London.
Minter, C. M. and Tempest, W. M. 1987. Supplementation of silage for finishing lambs. Animal Production 44: 483 (Abstr.).
Ørskov, E. R. 1982. Very intensive systems. In Sheep and Goat Production (ed. Coop, I. E.), pp. 401416. Elsevier, Amsterdam.
Ørskov, E. R. 1983. Nutrition of lambs from birth to slaughter. In Sheep Production (ed. Haresign, W.), pp. 155165. Butterworths, London.
Ørskov, E. R. 1987. Early weaning and fattening of lambs. In New Techniques in Sheep Production (ed. Marai, I. F. M. and Owen, J. B.), pp. 189195. Butterworths, London.
Ørskov, E. R., Fraser, C. and Gordon, J. G. 1974. Effect of processing cereals on rumen fermentation, digestibility, rumination time, and firmness of subcutaneous fat in lambs. British Journal of Nutrition 32: 5969.
Rskov, E. R. and Grubb, D. A. 1979. Growth of store lambs on cereal-based diets with protein or urea. Animal Production 29: 371377.
Povey, G. M. and Webster, G. M. 1987. Response of lowland store lambs to protein and energy supplementation of silage. Proceedings of the Eighth Silage Conference, pp. 165166. Institute for Grassland and Animal Production, Hurley.
Povey, G. M., Webster, G. M. and Weekes, T. E. C. 1989. The response of silage-fed Scottish Blackface lambs to different levels of energy and protein supplementation with or without a store period. Animal Production 48: 645 (Abstr.).
Povey, G. M., Webster, G. M. and Weekes, T. E. C. 1990. The responses of silage-fed Scottish Blackface lambs to increasing levels of fish meal supplementation with or without additional barley. In New Developments in Sheep Production (ed. Slade, C. F. R. and Lawrence, T. L. J.), Occasional Publication, British Society of Animal Production, No. 14, pp. 157161.
Reed, K. F. M. 1979. A note on the feeding value of grass and grass/clover silages for store lambs. Animal Production 28: 271274.
Salman, A. D. and Owen, E. 1981. A note on the effect of autumn shearing on performance of fattening lambs. Animal Production 33: 337338.
Schanbacher, B. D. and Crouse, J. D. 1980. Growth and performance of growing-finishing lambs exposed to long or short photoperiods. Journal of Animal Science 51: 943948.
Sniffen, C. J. and Hogue, D. E. 1984. Balancing rations influence amino acid flow to the small intestine of ruminants. Proceedings of the Cornell Nutrition Conference 1984, pp. 152158. Department of Animal Science, Cornell University, Ithaca.
Tayer, S. R. and Bryant, M. J. 1988. The response of store lambs to dietary supplements of fish meal. 3. Effects of the preceding pattern of growth. Animal Production 47: 393399.
Tempest, W. M. 1983. Management of the frequent lambing flock. In Sheep Production (ed. Haresign, W.), pp. 467481. Butterworths, London.
Vipond, J. E., King, M. E., Ørskov, E. R. and Wetherill, G. Z. 1989. Effects of fish meal supplementation on performance of overfat lambs fed on barley straw to reduce carcass fatness. Animal Production 48: 131138.
Warriss, P. D., Kestin, S. C. and Brown, S. N. 1989. The effect of beta-adrenergic agonists on carcass and meat quality in sheep. Animal Production 48: 385392.
Wilesmith, J. W. and Gitter, M. 1986. Epidemiology of ovine listeriosis in Great Britain. Veterinary Record 119: 467470.
Yilala, K. and Bryant, M. J. 1985. The effects upon the intake and performance of store lambs of supplementing grass silage with barley, fish meal and rapeseed meal. Animal Production 40: 111121.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO

Nutrition of the Finishing lamb

  • G. M. Webster (a1) and Gillian M. Povey (a1)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.