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Ewe conditions: Schauer encourages producers to monitor ewes

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Lead, S.D. – With drought conditions plaguing much of the area, sheep producers should carefully monitor the body condition of their ewes through the winter months, was the take-home message from the director of the North Dakota State University Hettinger Research Extension Center.
    Chris Schauer talked to a packed room of over 100 sheep producers during the 2012 Northern Plains Sheep Symposium in Lead, S.D. on Sept. 28-29 about monitoring body condition score (BCS) in ewes and options for supplementation.
    With winter feed costs expected to hit record highs and range quality deteriorating, producers need to reduce feed waste where they can, Schauer said.
    “This year, it will be important to feed the correct amount and reduce waste by using bunks, or even conveyor belting, to feed on,” he said.
    He also encouraged producers to extend fall and winter grazing if they can and utilize cheap feedstuffs when they need to supplement.
    Schauer shared some data from research conducted in North Dakota that showed how much crude protein and energy the ewe needs to maintain herself until May lambing. This data was based on a 150-pound ewe and a 200 percent lamb crop. During the winter, Schauer said producers should monitor the BCS and stage of pregnancy, quantity and quality of forage and be willing to seek out available feed supplements based on least cost and ease of feeding.
Monitor body condition score
    Schauer said the average ewe should be in a BCS three, with one being extremely thin, and five being obese. Typically, range ewes average a two or three, while farm flocks average a three to four, he said.
    To move one BCS, a change of 10 to 12 percent in body weight is required.
    To determine BCS, producers need to evaluate the fullness of muscle and fat cover over the loin by feeling it. Next, they need to feel behind the last rib and in front of the hipbone, and finally, feel for tips of the transverse process.
    Based on the stage of production, Schauer said producers should aim for the following body condition scores. In dry ewes, a 1.5 to two is desirable, while breeding ewes should score 2.5 to three. During early gestation a BCS of two to 2.5 is recommended, a 2.5 to three BCS during late gestation and three to 3.5 during early lactation. During late lactation and weaning, BCS recommendations drop to two to 2.5.
    Schauer cautioned producers that they need to add 0.5 to the BCS for ewes expecting or nursing twins. They may also need to adjust nutritional requirements for older ewes and yearling ewes, who may need a higher energy ration.
    Rams should also be in a solid body condition score three before breeding, he recommended.
Her requirements
    Consider water, energy, nitrogen, or crude protein, minerals and vitamins when developing a balanced ration for the ewes, Schauer said.
    Nitrogen is important when considering the urea in the diet; and crude protein, which is nitrogen multiplied by 6.25, is the common term for determining the amount of nitrogen in the diet.
    “During a year like this, crude protein will be deficient,” he added, showing producers some research indicating native range that varied from four to seven percent crude protein fell short of meeting the ewe’s requirement of seven to 15 percent, depending upon the time of year and stage of production.
    Producers also need to balance the diet for energy, which is the largest proportion of the sheep’s diet.
    “Energy is important because it is required for efficient reproduction, growth, lactation and wool production,” he said.
Options to meet
    To meet these requirements, Schauer encouraged producers to seek out available supplements and not be afraid to think outside the box.
    He also urged producers to add in additional costs for fuel and labor when determining which supplement to purchase. Schauer said a block or liquid can have significant labor savings, but producers will need to monitor intake and make sure the block meets the animal’s nutritional requirements.
    Other supplements may be cheaper, but producers need to consider the cost of labor feeding the supplement daily, three times a week or weekly.
    If the supplement can be fed weekly, Schauer said producers may be able to save $920 in labor and fuel costs each month over feeding the supplement daily. He determined this by figuring fuel at three gallons per supplementation day at four dollars a gallon, and labor at 2.5 hours per supplementation day at $10 an hour. He then calculated the cost based on 1,000 head of ewes.
    “I would encourage you to put in your own numbers to calculate this,” he said. “But for someone who works in town, like I do, feeding supplement once a week can add up to considerable savings.”
    Some least cost supplements producers may want to consider, according to Schauer, include soybean meal, oats, an 18 percent crude protein pellet and field peas. Dried distillers grains and first cutting alfalfa can also be competitive sources, if producers can find them, he said.
    Lastly, Schauer told sheep producers not to be afraid to consult their extension agent or a nutritionist to develop a balanced, nutritional ration.
    “There are supplements out there that won’t be able to meet the ewe’s requirements this year,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need to.”
    For more information, visit Schauer can be reached at 701-567-4323. Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

Body condition scores of ewes
    As drought conditions continue to affect the West, North Dakota State University Hettinger Research Extension Center Director Chris Schauer looks at ewe body condition scoring as a valuable tool to ensure sheep are meeting their nutrient requirements.
    Schauer provided a list of the five body condition scores, as well as their descriptions, depicted below.

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