1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Agriculture/Food-values and Early Maturity

Food-values and Early Maturity.

In the feeding experiments which have been carried on at Rothamsted it has been shown that the amount consumed both for a given live weight of animal within a given time, and for the production of a given amount of increase, is, as current food-stuffs go, measurable more by the amounts they contain of digestible and available non-nitrogenous constituents than by the amounts of the digestible and available nitrogenous constituents they supply. The non-nitrogenous substance (the fat) in the increase in live Weight of an animal is, at any rate ini great part, if not entirely, derived from the non-nitrogenous constituents of the food. Of the nitrogenous compounds in food, on the other hand, only a small proportion of the whole consumed is finally stored up in the increase of the animal-in other Words, a very large amount of nitrogen passes through the body beyond that which is finally retained in the increase. and so remains for manure. Hence it is that the amount of food consumed to produce a given amount of increase in live weight, as well as that required for the sustentation of a given live weight for a given time, should-provided the food be not abnormally deficient in nitrogenous substance-be characteristically dependent on its supplies of digestible and available non-nitrogenous constituents. It has further been shown that, in the exercise of force by animals, there is a greatly increased expenditure of the non-nitrogenous constituents of food, but little, if any, of the nitrogenous. Thus, then, alike for maintenance, for increase, and for the exercise of force, the exigencies of the system are characterized more by the demand for the digestible non-nitrogenous or more specially respiratory and fat-forming constituents than by that for the nitrogenous or more specially flesh-forming ones. Hence, as current fattening food-stuffs go—assuming, of course, that they are not abnormally low in the nitrogenous constituents—they are, as foods, more valuable in proportion to their richness in digestible and available non nitrogenous than to that of their nitrogenous constituents. As, however, the manure of the animals of the farm is valuable largely in proportion to the nitrogen it contains, there is, so far, an advantage in giving a food somewhat rich in nitrogen, provided it is in other respects a good one. and, weight for Weight, not much more costly.

The quantity of digestible nutritive matter in 1000 lb of ordinary feeding-stuffs when supplied to sheep or oxen is shown in Table XIX. This table is taken from Warington’s Chemistry of the Farm, 19th edition (Vinton and Co.), to which reference may be made for a detailed discussion of the feeding of animals. In the fattening of animals for the butcher the principle of early maturity has received full recognition. If the sole purpose for which an animal is reared is to prepare it for the block—and this is the case with steers amongst cattle and with wethers amongst sheep—the sooner it is ready for slaughter the less should be the outlay involved. During the whole time the animal is living the feeder has to pay what has been termed the “life tax”—that is, so much of the food has to go to the maintenance of the animal as a living organism, independently of that which may be undergoing conversion into what will subsequently be available in the form of beef or mutton. If a bullock can be rendered fit for the butcher at the age of two or three years, will the animal repay another year’s feeding? It has been proved at the Christmas fat stock shows that the older a bullock gets the less will he gain in weight per day as a result of the feeding. With regard to this point the work of the Smith field Club deserves recognition. This body was instituted in 1798 as the Smithield Cattle and Sheep Society, the title being

Table XIX.—Digestible Matter in 1000 lb. of various Foods.






Cotton cake (decorticated) 691 374 18 128 158 13
(undecorticated)  422 150 13 50 177 32
Linseed cake 655 230 11 103 266 45
Beans 733 196 28 12 446 51
Wheat [1] 786 92 13 15 656 10
Oats 600 81 7 45 441 26
Barley 715 70 4 19 607 15
Maize 786 73 6 44 65 1 12
Rice meal 612 67 10 102 411 22
Wheat bran 585 90 20 27 426 22
Malt sprouts 681 114 71 11 379 106
Brewers’ grains 137 34 2 14 67 20
(dried) 529 136 8 57 266 62
Pasture grass 156 19 11 6 84 36
Clover (bloom beginning) 123 17 8 5 63 30
Clover hay (medium) 440 47 25 13 242 113
Meadow hay (best) 511 60 18 13 269 151
(medium) 485 40 12 12 269 152
(poor) 460 29 5 10 242 174
Maize silage 124 1 7 7 75 34
Bean straw


Oat straw 381 7 5 7 163 199
Barley straw 426 4 3 6 211 202
Wheat straw


Potatoes 213 5 9 1 195 3
Mangels (large) 89 1 8 ½ 74 6
(small) 109 2 6 ½ 96 5
Swedes 87 2 7 1 71 6
Turnips 68 1 5 1 56 5

changed to that of the Smith field Club in 1802. The original object—the supply of the cattle markets of Smith field and other places with the cheapest and best meat—is still kept strictly in view. The judges, in making their awards at the show held annually in December, at Islington, North London (since 1862), are instructed to decide according to quality of flesh, lightness of offal, age and early maturity, with no restrictions as to feeding, and thus to promote the primary aim of the club in encouraging the selection and breeding of the best and most useful animals for the production of meat, and testing their capabilities in respect of early maturity. At the first show, held at Smithfield in 1799, two classes were provided for cattle and two for sheep, the prizes offered amounting to £52 : 10s. In 1839 the classes comprised seven for cattle, six for sheep, and one for pigs, with prizes to the amount of £300 By 1862 the classes had risen to 29 for cattle, 17 for sheep and 4 for pigs, and the prize money to £2072. At the centenary show in 1898 provision was made for 40 classes for cattle, 29 for sheep, 18 for pigs, and 7 for animals to be slaughtered, whilst to mark the importance of the occasion the prizes offered amounted to close upon £5000 in value. In 1907 there were 38 classes for cattle, 29 for sheep, 20 for pigs, and 12 for carcase competitors, and the value of the prizes was £4113. The sections provided for cattle are properly restricted to what may be termed the beef breeds; in the catalogue order they are Devon, South Devon, Hereford, Shorthorn, Sussex, Red Polled, Aberdeen-Angus, Galloway, Welsh, Highland, Cross-bred, Kerry and Dexter, and Small Cross-bred.

It will be noticed that such characteristically milking breeds as the Ayrshire, Jersey and Guernsey have no place here. Provision is made, however, for all the well-known breeds of sheep and swine. In the cattle classes, aged beasts of huge size and of considerably over a ton in weight used to be common, but in recent years the tendency has been to reduce the upper limit of age, and thus to bring out animals ripe for the butcher in a shorter time than was formerly the case. An important step in this direction was taken in 1896, when the senior class for steers, viz. animals three to four years old, was abolished, the maximum age at which steers were allowed to compete for prizes being reduced to three years. The cow classes were abolished in 1897, and in the schedule of the 1905 exhibition the classes for each breed of cattle were (1) for steers not exceeding two years old, (2) for steers above two years and not exceeding three years old, and (3) for heifers not exceeding three years old. The single exception is provided by the slowly-maturing Highland breed of cattle, for which classes were allotted to (1) steers not exceeding three years old, (2) steers or oxen above three years old (with no maximum limit), and (3) heifers not exceeding four years old. As illustrating heavy weights, there were in the 1893 show, out of 310 entries of cattle, four beasts which weighed over a ton. They were all steers of three to four years old, one being a Hereford weighing 20 cwt. 2 qr. 4 ℔, and the others Shorthorns weighing respectively 20 cwt. 2 qr., 20 cwt. 3 qr. 21 ℔, and 22 cwt. 2 qr. 18 ℔. In the 1895 show, out of 356 entries of cattle, there were seven beasts of more than a ton in weight. They were all three to four years old, and comprised four Shorthorns (top weight 21 cwt. 1 qr. 18 ℔), one Sussex (22 cwt. 3 qr. 7 ℔), and two cross-breds (top weight 20 cwt. 3 qr. 24 ℔). In the 1899 show, with 311 entries of cattle, and the age limited to three years, no beast reached the weight of a ton, the heaviest animal being a crossbred (Aberdeen-Angus and Shorthorn) which, at three years old, turned the scale at 19 cwt. 1 qr. 5 ℔. Out of 301 entries in 1905 the top weight was 19 cwt. 1 qr. 25 ℔ in the case of a Shorthorn steer. Useful figures for purposes of comparison are obtained by dividing the weight of a fat beast by the number of days in its age, the weight at birth being thrown in. The average daily gain in live weight is thus arrived at, and as the animal increases in age this average gradually diminishes, until the daily gain reaches a stage at which it does not afford any profitable return upon the food consumed. At the centenary show of the Smithfield Club in 1898 the highest average daily gains in weight amongst prize-winning cattle were provided by a Shorthorn-Aberdeen cross-bred steer (age, one year seven months; daily gain 2.47 ℔); a Shorthorn steer (age, one year seven months; daily gain, 2.44 ℔); and an Aberdeen-Shorthorn cross-bred steer (age, one year ten months; daily gain, 2.33 ℔)). These beasts, it will be observed, were all under two years old. Amongst prize steers of two and a half to three years old, on the same occasion, the three highest daily average gains in live weight were 2.07 ℔ for an Aberdeen-Angus, 1.99 ℔ for a Shorthorn-Aberdeen cross-bred and 1.97 ℔ for a Sussex. In the sheep section of the Smith field show the classes for ewes were finally abolished in 1898, and the classes restricted to wethers and wether lambs, whose function is exclusively the production of meat. At the 1905 show, sheep of each breed, and also cross-breds, competed as (1) wether lambs under twelve months old, and (2) wether sheep above twelve and under twenty-four months old. The only exception was in the case of the slowly-maturing Cheviot and mountain breeds, for which the second class was for wether sheep of any age above twelve months. Of prize sheep at the centenary show the largest average daily gain was 0.77 ℔ per head given by Oxford-Hampshire cross-bred wether lambs, aged nine months two weeks. In the case of wether sheep, twelve to twenty-four months old, the highest daily increase was 0.56 ℔ per head as yielded by Lincolns, aged twenty-one months. Within the last quarter of the 19th century the stock-feeding practices of the country were much modified in accordance with these ideas of early maturity. The three-year-old wethers and older oxen that used to be common in the fat stock markets are now rarely seen, excepting perhaps in the case of mountain breeds of sheep and Highland cattle. It was in 1875 that the Smithfield Club first provided the competitive classes for lambs, and in 188 3 the champion plate offered for the best pen of sheep of any age in the show was for the first time won by lambs, a pen of Hampshire Downs. The young classes for bullocks were established in 1880. The time-honoured notion that an animal must have completed its growth before it could be profitably fattened is no longer held, and the improved breeds which now exist rival one another as regards the early period at which they may be made ready for the butcher by appropriate feeding and management.

In 1895 the Smithfield Club instituted a carcase competition in association with its annual show of fat stock, and it has been continued each year since. The cattle and sheep entered for this competition are shown alive on the first day, at the close of which they are slaughtered and the carcases hung up for exhibition, with details of live and dead weights. The competition thus constitutes what is termed a “block test,” and it is instructive in affording the opportunity of seeing the quality of the carcases furnished by the several animals, and in particular the relative proportion and distribution of fat and lean meat. The live animals are judged and subsequently the carcases, and, though the results sometimes agree, more often they do not. Tables are constructed showing the fasted live weight, the carcase weight, and the weight of the various parts that are separated from and not included with the carcase. An abundance of lean meat and a moderate amount of fat well distributed constitutes a better carcase, and a more economical one for the consumer, than a carcase in which gross accumulations of fat are prominent. To add to the educational value of the display, information as to the methods of feeding would be desirable, as it would then be possible to correlate the quality of the meat with the mode of its manufacture. A point of high practical interest is the ratio of carcase weight to fasted live weight, and in the case of prize-winning carcases these ratios usually fluctuate within very narrow limits. At the 1899 show, for example, the highest proportion of the carcase weight to live weight was 68% in the case of an Aberdeen-Angus steer and of a Cheviot wether, whilst the lowest was 61%, afforded alike by a Shorthorn-Sussex cross-bred heifer and a mountain lamb. A familiar practical method of estimating carcase weight from live weight is to reckon one Smithfield stone (8 ℔) of carcase for each imperial stone (14 ℔) of live weight. This gives carcase weight as equal to 57% of live weight, a ratio much inferior to the best results obtained at the carcase competition promoted by the Smithfield Club.

  1. In the absence of experiments it is assumed that wheat is digested like other foods of the same class.

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