1. Total anatomical dissection data from 62 half carcasses of steers representing 6 breed groups differing in age and nutritional history, were examined with a view to establishing a basis for comparison of carcass composition of breed groups or of cattle from various treatments.
2. The results indicate that total muscular tissue might be used for comparative purposes in certain instances. Muscle weight differences could be examined independently of general size by adjusting to common muscle plus bone weights.
3. It is proposed that relative carcass composition is best assessed by use of two measures: muscle: bone ratio and percentage fat tissue in the carcass.
4. Muscle: bone ratio was shown to increase with carcass weight and after the effects of carcass weight had been statistically removed the influence of percentage fat on this ratio was negligible. The required adjustment to muscle: bone ratio for differences in carcass weight was estimated at 0·03 per 10 kg. increase in carcass weight.
5. Percentage fat in a carcass is proposed as an index of acceptability. The requirements of different markets in terms of this index would need to be established. Adjustment factors for percentage fat based on carcass weight would need to be established on a within group basis.
6. Relative growth coefficients for muscle, bone and fat, based on a logarithmic relationship with total muscle plus bone, are presented and were found to agree closely with those for swine and sheep. The magnitude of differential growth in body tissues indicated by the growth coefficients accentuates the necessity of making carcass composition comparisons at standard weights or following suitable statistical adjustments.
7. The implications of carcass composition assessment in beef breeding programmes are discussed.