Rounding up ewes

Body Condition Scoring Ewes

Ivan Holloway

Written by Ivan Holloway

Ivan Holloway is a senior veterinarian
& our production animal business manager.

Body condition scoring (BCS) of ewes is an important management tool that assesses the amount of fat and condition of a ewe by feeling the spine and short ribs over her back.

Adequate BCS in ewes is important as it relates to:

  • Increases in kilograms of lamb weaned per hectare
  • Increases weaning weight per lamb
  • Increases the number of lambs weaned per hectare
  • Condenses ewe conception times
  • Increases kilograms of meat and fibre produced per hectare.

Body condition scoring ewes is easily learnt and is generally more valuable than ewe weighing. Ewes should ideally sit above BCS 3 (on a scale of 1-5) all year round. By separating ewes into groups based on their BCS, feed can be more accurately allocated to the group that requires it the most. Ewes above BCS 3 may only require maintenance feeding while those below can be allocated greater intakes. The number of ewes sitting below BCS 3 at tupping and pre-lamb can have a major impact on the overall profitability of the ewe flock.

By splitting mobs into condition groups pre-mating, the opportunity arises to be able to increase conception rates at the first cycle hence reducing the overall tail of the mob.

Overall weight will change throughout pregnancy while BCS is a consistent parameter.

There are three key times to BCS your ewes:

  1. Weaning: It allows you to boost the lighter ewes and maintain the better condition ewes.
  2. Pre-mating: Again, enables a better allocation of feed for mating. Allows for lighter ewes to be flushed while better-conditioned ewes to be held.
  3. Scanning: At scanning, a well-conditioned ewe will milk better and be less likely to abandon her lamb. There is still time to make a difference in lambing at scanning time and ewes are conveniently in the yards.

Overall, a well-fed ewe is considered the best shelter a lamb can have. It is important to note that research shows that lamb survival falls by 5% for every 0.5 BCS lost between scanning and lambing. A ewe in optimal body condition (3 +) produces vigorous lambs. They will get up to feed quicker and twins born in separate locations will vocalise more. Better conditioned ewes at lambing produce more colostrum and milk hence better lambs.

Most farmers find it somewhat surprising how easy it is to learn how to BCS ewes if you don’t know already. It is quick to do with a race of 30 ewes able to be scored in approximately one minute. The process is quicker than weighing and overall, more valuable.