Body Condition Scoring Basics for Sheep

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Purina Animal Nutrition

Knowing the amount of condition or fat cover for sheep is a good practice to implement in any nutrition program. Condition is commonly measured using a body condition score (BCS). Body condition adjusts throughout the year for various reasons, including the animal’s age, breeding cycle and weather impacts. Nutrition decisions impact which direction the body condition score of your flock goes.
It’s important to body condition score sheep because it’s a direct indication of their overall health and reproduction. Scoring body condition during key times like breeding helps evaluate nutritional needs of your flock and gives you a guideline of where things stand.
Follow these steps to monitor and maintain body condition in your sheep:

How does scoring work?

Sheep body condition score is monitored on a 5-point scale that increases or decreases by half-point increments.

The ideal score falls between a range of 2.5 to 4, depending on life stage and energy demand. During breeding season, we like to see ewes around 2.5 to 3 BCS. Rams can have a little higher condition, up to a 4 BCS because they will lose more condition.

Sheep are considered too thin or under-conditioned when they are at or below 1.5 BCS. Common problems in under-conditioned ewes include missing heat cycles which leads to lower conception. Similarly, rams in lower body condition tend to wear down during a breeding season. Thin animals are also more susceptible to disease because they aren’t receiving adequate nutrition for immune system support.

Sheep become too fat or over-conditioned when they reach 4.5 BCS or higher. Over-conditioned ewes can have reduced fertility, causing delayed lambing or kidding and reduced production for their offspring. When rams are too fat, it may reduce libido, so they won’t follow or stay with females for breeding.

If you can keep sheep around 2.5 to 3 BCS, reproductive outcomes improve. Timely breed back and twinning will also increase, resulting in a higher percentage lamb or kid crop.

What are you looking for?

Body condition appears in a few visible places on the body. Fat cover typically deposits on the top-line of sheep, running alongside the vertebrae. When sheep are especially obese, fat collects in the brisket running below the neck.

These areas are extremely prominent if sheep are too thin, or they’ll stand out when they have too much fat. When visually appraising, a 2.5 BCS will have a smooth appearance over the ribs. The vertebrae and hip bones will be covered but still visible.

Purina’s new BCS guides provide a visual reference tool for sheep producers. Download the sheep guide.

There is also a hands-on approach you can take when assessing sheep body condition score. When sheep are thin, you’ll feel bones easier, like the vertebrae and ribs. On the flip side, if you aren’t able to feel some bones, the animals might have too much condition.

You don’t want their top-line to ‘cut your hand’ (be bony). Coming right off of the back of their shoulder, you want the top-line to be smooth, but still be able to feel it and not be obese.

Keep them in condition

Pasture is sometimes thought to be an adequate source of nutrition for sheep. However, forage quality and reproductive timing may require additional supplementation to meet or exceed nutritional needs and keep sheep in proper condition.

Don’t ignore nutrition, particularly in the lead up to breeding when green pastures might seem sufficient. Adding a supplemental fat tub, like Purina® Accuration® Sheep & Goat Hi-Fat Block,  helps increase energy for ewes that have just weaned their lambs and kids, a time when females need to gain condition to be flushed for breeding.

If sheep are under-conditioned, a pelleted ration, such as Purina® Sheep Balancer, can supply more targeted supplemental nutrients, so you know they are getting energy each day.

When dealing with over-conditioned animals, you can pull back on the nutrition program slightly by feeding higher fiber rations.

In all situations, sheep should get mineral to make up for any nutritional gaps. Use Purina® Wind and Rain® Sheep Mineral containing the proper proportion of nutrients like calcium and trace minerals to optimize performance. Then the supplemental rations can balance for protein and fat.

Keeping an eye on sheep body condition score throughout the year and making nutritional adjustments goes a long way towards optimizing flock performance. Download the BCS chart as a tool to monitor flock performance.