Index selection in terminal sires improves lamb performance at finishing

Gabi C Marquez, William Haresign, Mervyn H Davies, Rainer Roehe, Lutz Bunger, Geoff Simm, Ron M Lewis

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Lamb meat is often perceived by consumers as fatty, and consumption has decreased in recent decades. A lean growth index was developed in the UK for terminal sire breeds to increase carcass lean content and constrain fat content at a constant age end point. The purposes of this study were 1) to evaluate the effects of index selection of terminal sires on their crossbred offspring at finishing and 2) to evaluate its effectiveness within terminal sire breeds. Approximately 70% of lambs marketed in the UK have been sired by rams of breeds typically thought of as specialized terminal sires. The most widely used are Charollais, Suffolk, and Texel. These breeds participated in sire referencing schemes from the early 1990s by sharing rams among flocks selected on the lean growth index. From 1999 to 2002 approximately 15 “high” and 15 “low” lean growth index score rams were selected from within their sire referencing schemes and mated to Welsh and Scottish Mule ewes. Their crossbred offspring were commercially reared on 3 farms in the UK. Lambs were finished to an estimated 11% subcutaneous fat by visual evaluation. At finishing, lambs were weighed, ultrasonically scanned, and assessed for condition score and conformation. Records were obtained for 6356 lambs on finishing BW (FWT), ultrasonic muscle depth (UMD), ultrasonic fat depth, overall condition score (OCS), and conformation of gigot, loin, and shoulder. Ultrasonic fat depth was log transformed (logUFD) to approach normality. High-index-sired lambs were heavier at finishing (1.2 ± 0.2 kg) with thicker UMD (0.7 ± 0.2 mm) and less logUFD (0.08 ± 0.01 mm; P < 0.05). There were no differences in OCS or conformation based on the sire index or breed (P > 0.08). Suffolk-sired lambs were heavier than Charollais (1.0 ± 0.3 kg), which were heavier than Texel (0.9 ± 0.3 kg; P < 0.001). Texel-sired lambs had thicker UMD than Charollais (0.7 ± 0.2 mm; P < 0.001) but were not different than Suffolk. Charollais-sired lambs had greater logUFD than both Texel (0.098 ± 0.016 mm) and Suffolk (0.061 ± 0.017 mm) sired lambs (P < 0.001). Within a breed, high- and low-index-sired lambs differed in performance with the exceptions of FWT and UMD in Suffolks. Index selection produced heavier and leaner lambs at finishing. Producers have flexibility in choosing the terminal sire that best fits their production system.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)38-43
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Animal Science
Issue number1
Early online date16 Oct 2012
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2013


  • crossbred lambs
  • index selection
  • lamb performance
  • terminal sire


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