Scoring ewe body condition is in the palm of your hand

Sheep grazing mid-summer. Photo credit: Lyndsey Smith, 2017

A sheep in full wool can look plump and well-fed, even when they’re quite thin. The only real way to assess body condition is by getting your hands on the animal, even once sheared. But what are you feeling for, exactly? How can you tell a body condition score (BCS) of 3 from a 2?

The best time to body condition score is ahead of breeding, says Dr. Dan Morrical, with Premier 1, and professor emeritus with Iowa State University. A ewe in good physical shape is most likely to breed — too thin and they may not be able to breed and maintain a pregnancy, too fat and they may not cycle.

Speaking recently at the Ontario Sheep Convention at Alliston, Morrical says that body condition score is a useful tool that takes only a few moments per sheep to perform. There are several good visuals online for reference, but one of the quickest and most accessible to use is your own hand. As Morrical demonstrates in the video below, your knuckles in a fist, knuckles of a flat hand, and the palm of your hand correlate pretty well to what a ewe’s backbone feels like at a BCS of 2, 3, and 4, respectively.

It takes about 11 per cent of a ewe’s body weight to move from one body score to the next. A 140-pound ewe who is thin at a BCS of 2 needs to add 15.4 pounds to her frame to move to a more desirable BCS of 3.

Assessing BCS allows producers to put a plan together for to get thin ewes in better condition ahead of meeting the rams, but it’s also useful at weaning, as a way to sort the thin ewes from those in better shape post-lactation to address their nutritional needs, too.

Body condition scoring with your hand:

Feel your knuckles as you make a fist. You can easily feel the spinous process of the ewe’s back: Approximate BCS 1-2





Knuckles (flat hand). Spinous process is discernible, but with some cover: Approximate BCS 2-3





Meaty part of the palm of your hand. No spinous process evident: Approximate BCS 4


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