Vet’s View

can hide so many se­crets, body con­di­tion scor­ing is a par­tic­u­larly use­ful tool for own­ers, says Char­lotte Mouland

Country Smallholding - - Inside This Month -

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.

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