Condition scoring sheep

If you are going to breed sheep, it’s advisable that you get to grips with condition scoring.

Condition scoring (CS) is a way of assessing how thin or fat your sheep (or any other animal) are i.e. what condition they are in as opposed to what weight or size they are. There are target CS for different times of the year. Because of their wool, it is impossible to assess a sheep’s condition by eye – you have to get hands on.

Juno, a big ewe!Juno is a big ewe, but without a hands-on check it's not possible to know if she's fat (she's not!)

The two places you are feeling are the backbone and the transverse processes of the short ribs.

Condition score table

CS Description Backbone Short ribs
1 Extremely emaciated Prominent and sharp Ends sharp and easy to press between, over and around
2 Lean Prominent but smooth Smooth well rounded ends, can feel over and around each smoothly
3 Good Can be felt but smooth and rounded Ends are smooth and well rounded; firm pressure required to feel under and between
4 Fat Detectable with thumb pressure Individual short ribs can only be felt with firm pressure
5 Obese Only felt with firm pressure; may be dimple over spine Cannot be felt even with firm pressure

Target condition scores for breeding sheep

At tupping, lowland ewes should have a CS of 3.0-3.5, hill ewes 2.5 – 3.0.

Ewes in CS 2.5 at tupping should be on a rising plane of nutrition, with concentrates being fed if grass supply is limited.

Condition should be maintained for the first month of pregnancy, to ensure that embryos implant successfully, thereafter condition can be allowed to drop by 0.5 until the last 6 weeks of pregnancy.

At lambing, lowland ewes should have a CS of 2.5 – 3.0 and hill ewes 2.5.

The condition of your tup is also important. If he is to cover a lot of ewes, he should be in Good to Fat condition, as he will drop condition over the busy mating period.

Tups should never be obese but lean tups may not work successfully.

Rosemary Champion

About Rosemary Champion

Rosemary lives on a 12 acre smallholding in Angus, in the east of Scotland, where she keeps Ryeland Sheep, Shetland cattle and assorted poultry. She was destined to be a smallholder from an early age.

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