The conversion of plants by livestock to provide meat for humans is important to agriculture. Because of consumer demands for lean, high-quality meat and the economical efficiencies of converting plants into lean meat rather than fat, there is need to understand how livestock vary in composition and how to accurately determine these variations. Stage of maturity, level of nutrition, and genetic makeup are important for understanding body composition. Nevertheless, other factors such as species, pregnancy, and dressing percentages contribute significantly to this understanding.

To successfully understand the variables responsible for composition of market livestock, the parents from which they originate, and the ultimate carcasses they yield for lean, high-quality meat production, it is essential to have practical, accurate, inexpensive, and rapid methods to ascertain composition, and there are numerous ways to estimate it in both livestock and their carcasses. However, most methods fail in one or more of the four required criteria: 1) practicality; 2) accuracy; 3) inexpensiveness; and 4) rapidity. Using the combination of weight, fat depth, and muscle area through ultrasonic evaluation for livestock and optical-light reflectance probes for carcasses proves reliable for both scientific research and commercial marketing.

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