The body composition of eight Merino wethers was estimated from the tritiated water (TOH) space and live weight at intervals during a cross-over experiment in which they were fed to either maintain a uniform live weight (about 34 kg) or to lose and, later, recover live weight over a 17-week period. The diet was a pelleted mixture of lucerne and wheat.
The multiple regression equations used for these estimates were established from the chemical analysis of 24 sheep, including six from the cross-over experiment, which were killed at intervals during these two feeding regimens. The inclusion of TOH space in addition to live weight in the regression equations decreased the standard error of the estimates of body water, fat and energy by two-thirds. Correction of TOH space and live weight for gut water did not increase the precision of the equations.
Shoop which ate, during the first 4 weeks of the experiment, one-third of the amount of food required to maintain their original live weight, lost 16% of their weight and 30% of their total body energy. This weight loss consisted of 45% water, 39% fat and 13% protein. It appeared that tissue was mobilized inefficiently to meet a sudden energy deficit.
When food was offered ad lib. to these sheep after they had maintained a liveweight deficit of about 11 kg for 8 weeks, they regained their weight in 5 weeks but only 75% of their energy deficit. This was due to the high content of water (60%) and low content of fat (23%) in the regained tissue.
The sheep that lost weight and then recovered it were, over-all, about 86% as efficient in their use of food to maintain body energy and produce wool as the sheep that maintained their original weight.