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Body condition of sheep

It's not always easy to tell the condition of sheep just by looking at them. Body condition scoring is a tool to evaluate animals' health and production efficiency.

Radio interview source: Jim Thompson, Extension Sheep Specialist, Oregon State University

 
It's essential to evaluate every one of your ewe's body condition before breeding and before lambing to ensure they are in tip top shape.
 
Jim Thompson is an extension sheep specialist at Oregon State University. He says the body condition scoring system used for sheep evaluates the amount of muscling and fat deposition over and around the lumbar vertebrae in the loin region.
 
"You're putting your thumb over the top and your fingers down on the side and feeling for how much fat cover or how little fat cover is over the transverse processes of the lumbar vertebrae and the spinous process," he says. "The transverse processes go out to the side, and then the spinal processes are straight up, which is what you feel when you have your hands right over that region of the back bone."
 
Body condition is scored on a scale from one-to-five. One is too thin, and five is too fat. Thompson says ideally, your sheep should range somewhere between two-and-four. Sometimes a half-score is given when the condition isn't quite clear.
 
Two key times for checking ewes are at breeding time, and right before lambing.
 
"At breeding we recommend about a three-to-a-three-and-a-half body condition score," says Thompson. "Then about a month before lambing, we want to see them at least a three, and if you have a flock that has a high incidence of twins, then maybe you want to be shooting for a three-and-a-half body condition score at that time."
 
Sheep that are very wooly may look plump, but can actually be quite thin, so it's important to get your hands on them to check. A sheared animal is easier to visually evaluate, but Thompson says it's always a good idea to handle it as well. 

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