Healthy weights: Ewe body condition score could affect productivity
Raising lambs, producing wool and practicing environmental stewardship are all expectations a sheep producer holds. The American Sheep Industry Association’s recent research discusses body condition scoring on ewes ready for production.
Dr. Clay Elliot, a Wyoming native and Purina animal nutrition specialist joined the discussion to address regular body condition scoring and nutrition to help ewes maintain condition through all seasons.
BCS for production
“Producers should take advantage of looking to make sure their ewes are at least in moderate body condition,” says Elliot. “This means they are at an acceptable body condition – not too thin and not too fat.”
He explains the body condition scoring chart for sheep works on a one through five system, where one represents the thinnest body condition and five represents obese sheep.
“The reason to look at a ewe’s body condition score (BCS) is to enhance productivity,” Elliot says. “It plays a huge role in reproduction and immune support.”
He continued, “If ewes are too thin, the first thing to go is reproduction. If they end up bred, producers will likely see single lambs and a significant number of open ewes.”
Additionally, Elliot shares producers may struggle with the overall health of their ewes in thin body condition. The ewe may need to fight off sickness or disease she could be exposed to at any time, and BCS relates to the overall health of the animal.
“On the other hand, if ewes are at a BCS of five, they are obese and they’ll also have trouble getting bred,” Elliot explains. “Obese ewes will have trouble moving because they are out of shape.”
Many producers will also see reproductive troubles caused by obesity, including the functionality of udders and the ability to milk properly.
Although running sheep across a scale may seem easier than giving an individual body condition score, it could actually hinder the flock. Elliot shared it is important producers get a visual of what their ewes are looking like and if the weight on each ewe’s frame is adequate.
“All sheep are different in size,” says Elliot. “Those females could be 125 to 165 or 170 pounds. A 125-pound ewe doesn’t require as much input as a larger ewe would.”
He continues, “I would certainly recommend independently evaluating each and every ewe in the flock or a small segment of ewes.”
Elliot says it’s important to evaluate ewes and asks questions of the flock, including whether or not both large ewes are comparable in BCS to small ewes in the herd. Asking questions gives the producer a way to better understand what the forage is doing for the sheep.
Elliot notes knowing what to look for when body condition scoring ewes is very important.
“A BCS of one is too thin – those ewes are skinny,” he says. “At this point, we are going to sacrifice production, hip bones are standing up, producers can count the ewes’ ribs and their spine is visible.”
“On the other end of the spectrum, a BCS of five is the most obese and those ewes are smooth over their ribs, the hip bones are not prominent and a spine can’t be seen,” Elliot continues. “Somewhere in between is where we’d like our females to be – the sweet spot is a BCS between a BCS two and a BCS four.”
Elliot shares if females are scoring at a two, they could certainly use more input to move them to a BCS of 2.5 or 3.5. When looking at sheep in this range, producers can still see the shape of the ribs and can make out a prominent hook bone, but will struggle to see the spine.
“I think it’s important sheep producers look at the ewes in their flock at least once a month,” says Elliot.
He continues, “Their body condition definitely regards forage quality. If producers know they are getting plenty of rain and grass is good, ewes are probably in moderate body condition.”
Most operations have struggled this summer through drought, and Elliot offers supplemental feed as an option to maintain body condition.
“Sometimes ewes could be struggling right before our eyes and so we need to do some supplementation, but it is important to keep our eyes on our ewes to know when they could use extra nutrition,” states Elliot.
Cameron Magee is an intern for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.