Acting earlier on ewe condition at weaning can lead to improved scanning results.

Monitoring the condition of ewes well in advance of tupping and adjusting grazing to prioritise leaner animals has enabled a Welsh lamb producer to boost his scanning percentage by 16%.

After a challenging year (2012-13), several of Paul Morris’s ewes had been at condition score 2. In lowland and upland flocks, a condition score of 3 to 3.5 is recommended at tupping.

The previous year, independent sheep consultant, Catherine Nakielny, had first visited Mr Morris’ Pembrokeshire farm as part of the Farming Connect Know Your Flock initiative to advise him and visiting lamb producers on condition scoring.

Know Your Flock Business Clubs provide Welsh producers with opportunities to scrutinise flock performance and implement changes to help improve profitability.

Mr Morris’ electronic identification system (EID system was used to record the condition of every ewe. Although the project had initially focused on condition scoring pre-tupping, Mr Morris says the benefits of acting earlier became apparent.

“By gathering this information early enough in the season I had the opportunity to react and get ewes on the right plane of nutrition before we put the rams in,’’ he explains.

The ewes were separated into groups according to condition and those with the lowest score had priority grazing on better quality leys.

“We gave the ewes with the lowest condition score priority for the best quality grass behind the lambs that we intended to sell fat in September and October. Third in line were the store lambs that would not have achieved market specification in October,” says Mr Morris.

“We felt that it was worth sacrificing lamb performance to improve the lamb crop the following year.’’

Last autumn, Mr Morris tupped 756 Lleyn and New Zealand Suffolk-cross ewes and 110 ewe lambs.

His feeding strategy paid off, as the flock achieved a scanning percentage of 183%. Yearlings scanned at 170% and the more mature animals achieved 196%. These figures represented an overall increase of 16% on the previous year.

“By increasing our flock productivity we are getting more kilogrammes of meat a hectare and spreading the cost of production,’’ says Mr Morris, who farms 450 acres at Gilfach Farm, Lampeter Velfrey.

Condition scoring advice

Dr Nakielny advises condition score 3 to 3.5 in lowland and upland flocks and, in hill flocks where a large number of twin lambs may not be preferable, producers should aim for a target condition score of 2.5.

“To actively manage condition, the process needs to start at weaning with ewes split into lean, fat and maintenance groups,’’ she says.

“Ewe condition really needs to be considered before weaning and taken into account when deciding when to wean.

“Weaning date should consider grass availability, ewe condition and planned sales pattern. In particular when ewe condition is poor, or there is a limited grass supply, consider weaning earlier rather than later.

“Lambs can be weaned from 10 to 12 weeks of age so if you are leaving lambs on much longer than this then consider the impact on the next season’s scanning results and winter feed costs.’’

It takes six to nine weeks for a ewe on good quality grazing to move from condition score 2 to 3, she adds. Leaner ewes should, therefore, be given priority for grazing.

If there are limited options for running three groups of ewes, she advises running above-target and at-target ewes together and splitting leaner ewes into a separate group.

“For the project we gave a condition score to every animal, but in practice the process needs to be based on ewes that are below target, at target or above target,’’ says Dr Nakielny.

“It is vital however to put a hand on every ewe when condition scoring. The visual appearance of a ewe is deceptive and you tend to see conformation rather than condition. Once implemented a regular condition scoring can be easily carried out when ewes are handled and soon becomes second nature.’’