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Managing ewe condition score through the year

Need/issue: The management of ewe condition will depend on the physiological stage (gestation, lactation and dry period) of the ewe and can affect disease susceptibility and/or disease diagnosis.  Body condition score influences flock productivity.

Introduction:

Body condition scoring is a method to assess fat reserves and is based on feeling an animal’s short rips and spine. The scores, ranging from 1 (lean) to 5 (fat), should be compared with flock targets for the appropriate physiological stage to facilitate nutritional management: those under/over target should be managed (in separate groups) to gain, or lose body condition thus increasing the proportion of the flock on target.

How to Condition Score Sheep

Body condition score is assessed by handling individual ewes along the top and side of the back bone in the loin area immediately behind the last rib and above the kidneys (Figures 1 and 2) as follows:

  1. Feel the degree of sharpness or roundness of the spinous processes using the finger tips.
  2. Feel the tips of the transverse processes using finger pressure for sharpness or roundness.
  3. Press the fingers into the area between the spinous and transverse processes to determine the eye muscle and fat cover.

A brief description of each of the scores are as follows:

Score 0: It is not possible to detect any muscle or fat tissue between the skin and bone. The animal is extremely emaciated and on the point of death. Score 0 is rarely seen on Irish farms.

Score 1: The spinous and transverse processes are sharp and prominent with a distinct gap between each process. (Figure 3).

Score 2: The spinous and transverse processes are prominent but smooth. It is possible to press the fingers under the transverse processes with some pressure.

Score 3: The spinous processes are smooth and rounded and are detectable with a little pressure. The transverse processes are smooth and rounded and the ends are only detectable with firm pressure. The eye muscle is full with some fat. (Figure 4).

Score 4: The spinous processes can be detected only with pressure as a hard line. The transverse processes cannot be detected. The eye muscle is full with a moderate degree of fat cover.

Score 5: Neither the spinous or transverse processes can be felt, even with pressure. There is a thick cover of fat and the eye muscle is full. There is a depression along the mid line fat where the spinous processes would normally be felt. (Figure 5).

Experienced operators use half scores (i.e. 2.0, 2.5, 3.0, 3.5, etc) to enable more accurate prediction of ewe condition.

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The general targets for meat sheep are as follows:

 

Lowland

Upland

Hill

Weaning

2.5-3.0

2

2

Mating

3.5-4.0

3

2.5

Mid-Pregnancy (3 months post mating)

3.0 – 3.5

2.5

2

Lambing

3.0 – 3.5

2.5

2

 

Targets are lower for more extensive environments due to the types of breeds used – gaining familiarity of the condition scores observed in your flock at different times of the year is the best way to ensure the method and targets are correct for your breeds, flock age structure, staff and environment.

Body condition and Health:

 Achieving body condition score targets can improve flock resilience when exposed to disease. In addition, if ewes are not gaining condition when managed for condition gain, it can indicate underlying health issues. If some individuals are on a good plane of nutrition and are not gaining condition, consider investigating potential health issues that may be limiting their productivity.

 Body condition and Productivity:

Having the flock at the correct BCS pre mating (3.5 to 4.0 in meat sheep, 3-3.5 in dairy sheep) will increase the number of lambs reared per ewe joined through increased prolificacy and reduced barren rates. In meat sheep, increasing BCS by one unit at joining (within a range of 2.5 to 4) will increase litter size by 0.13 lambs per ewe and the number of lambs reared per ewe joined by 0.10. In dairy sheep, increasing BCS by one unit at mating (within a range of 2.5 to 4) will increase litter size by 0.20 lambs per ewe and the number of lambs reared per ewe joined by 0.15 while also increasing milk yield by 12 kg per lactation in adult ewes.

    Topic: health/nutrition/management

    Production:  meat

    Animal Category: ewe

    This post is also available in: French