can hide so many secrets, body condition scoring is a particularly useful tool for owners, says Charlotte Mouland
By Charlotte Mouland
BODY condition scoring (BCS) is a tool to assess the effectiveness of a sheep’s diet, which is particularly useful at key times of the year in order to maintain a healthy and productive flock. Body condition scoring should be carried out regularly by the stock keeper and changes to management should be made based on the results.
At this time of year we are thinking about preparing ewes to go to the ram in the autumn. Getting ewes in the correct condition at tupping time will not only optimise their fertility, but will have knockon effects on their health at lambing time and the quantity and quality of milk they produce for their lambs.
How to perform body condition scoring
A sheep’s fleece can hide many secrets. Therefore you must handle them to accurately assess their condition. Place firm pressure on the sheep’s loin, behind the last ribs to palpate both the vertical and horizontal processes of the backbone. You are trying to assess how much fat cover there is over the backbone and score this cover from 1-5.
Practice makes perfect and when you start body condition scoring it can be a good idea to try it with your vet and compare notes. Most shepherds and vets would score to the accuracy of half a condition score — ie, a score of 2.5 would fit a description of somewhere between a 2 and 3 ( below right).
Are your sheep on target?
At any point in the calendar year we are aiming for at least 90% of the flock to be in the correct condition. Targets vary slightly depending on whether the sheep are a lowland, upland or hill breed and this is because upland and hill breeds distribute their fat in different places. The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) has a fantastic online resource called Managing ewes for better returns, which gives all of the condition score targets. Target body condition score at tupping is 3-3.5 for lowland breeds, 2.5-3 for upland breeds and 2-2.5 for hill breeds. It takes eight weeks for a ewe to gain one condition score, so assessing BCS at weaning is vital to plan grazing and feeding going forward.
It has been an extreme year for weather and this will certainly have a knock-on effect on ewes’ condition. By regularly assessing BCS and therefore thinking about feed requirements, smallholders can get their sheep in the best shape to ride out some of these fluctuations in food availability.