Research shows value of monitoring ewe body condition score

New research has shown just how valuable it is to record and monitor body condition in commercial ewe flocks and keep it consistent year-round.  

Independent sheep consultant Lesley Stubbings and AHDB knowledge exchange manager Nerys Wright took body condition scores of about 3,000 ewes across three farms over four years at key times:

  • Mating
  • Lambing
  • Eight weeks
  • 90 days (weaning)
  • Mid-pregnancy/scanning
  • Late pregnancy

See also: ‘Sheep farmers should invest in vets and flock health plans’

They found:

  • BCS had a direct correlation on lamb eight-week and weaning weights at 90-days
  • The poorer the BCS the poorer weights at these stages
  • If lambs failed to hit target weights at eight weeks, they did not hit 90-day targets and there was a high percentage of loss within this group
  • Ewes that continued to gain weight from weaning to scanning had better overall output
  • Shearlings were more likely to have small lambs compared to ewes

Ms Stubbings said farmers should be using BCS as a lead key performance indicator (KPI) to identify areas for improvement.

She said BCS also gives producers a good idea of when management interventions need to be made.

“Body condition score is key, not something simply to react to. We need to get it right all the time.

“Just hitting those targets at certain periods of time is not enough. You have to be within that target range all year; with the whole flock not gaining too much or losing too much.”

Take home messages for lowland commercial flocks:

  • Farmers should try to keep the variation throughout the year to between 0.5 and 1.0 BCS
  • Weighing lambs and ewes is critical to assess performance and identify areas for improvement
  • The aim is for as many lambs as possible to reach 20kg by eight weeks. Small lambs are those that miss 20kg by 15% or more
  • Minimise that number by improving ewe feeding and BCS
  • If lambs do miss the target, ask yourself: would I be better taking them off the ewe and should I start to creep them?
  • Graze shearlings as a group and give them priority to better grazing
  • Get serious about grazing management and find out what that ewe needs

Body condition score targets for lowland ewes

At weaning


At tupping




At lambing