Implementing the use of spine traits in a commercial breeding program has been seen to improve meat production from the carcass of larger-bodied pigs. The aim of this study was to assess the extent of variation in spine characteristics within and between breeds of sheep and to investigate the association with body length and tissues traits to deliberate if a similar approach could be applicable in the sheep sector. Spine traits (vertebrae number, VN; spine region length, SPL; individual vertebra length, VL) of the thoracic (THOR) lumbar (LUM) and thoracolumbar (T+L) spine regions were measured using x-ray computed tomography (CT) on 254 Texel (TEX), 1100 Scottish Blackface (SBF), 326 Texel cross Mule (TEX × MULE), and 178 Poll Dorset cross Mule (PD × MULE) lambs. Simple descriptive statistics inform that variation in thoracolumbar VN exists within all breeds and crosses; TEX animals showed the largest range of variation in thoracolumbar VN (17 to 21) and the TEX × MULE the smallest (18 to 20). Signifi cant differences were not observed between sexes, but did occur between breeds (P < 0.05), which is indicative of a genetic basis for these traits. Least-squares means identifi ed that TEX had the least thoracolumbar VN (19.24) and SBF possessed the most (19.63); similarly the lowest measures for SPL and VL for each spine region were observed in TEX, but the greatest values for these traits were expressed predominantly in the crosses (TEX × MULE and PD × MULE). Correlation coeffi cients (r) within each breed or cross support the interpretation of additional vertebrae contributing to a longer length of the spine region in which they occur (P < 0.001; e.g., for PD × MULE lambs), r between traits VNTHOR and SPLTHOR (r = 0.59), VNLUM and SPLLUM (r = 0.94) and VNT+L and SPLT+L (r = 0.65) all reach moderate to very high values. In all breeds and crosses, this relationship is particularly strong for the lumbar region. The few signifi cant (P < 0.05) correlations observed between spine and tissue traits [CT-predicted quantities of carcass fat and muscle (kg) and area of the LM (mm2)] indicated no substantial relationships, r was small (ranging from –0.25 to 0.19) in each case. To conclude, signifi cant vertebral variation exists within and between sheep breeds and crosses, which can contribute to an increase in body (and carcass) length. Including measurements taken for other primal cuts will further aid in assessing any potential increase in meat production from these longer-bodied sheep.
- Body length
- Vertebrae variation