Body condition scoring a sheep can be a little more difficult than scoring other kinds of livestock because of the sheep’s thick covering of wool. While most animals can be scored with a simple visual inspection, evaluating a sheep’s condition is a more hands-on process.
So first you will need to know what you are feeling for. Most of your examination will center around the sheep’s spine. Each vertebra has a number of projections, or processes, three of which you will use to score the animal. The spinous process is vertical, forming the ridge down the center of the back. The two transverse processes are horizontal, pointing out to the sheep’s sides. A body condition score for sheep is based on how prominent the ends of these processes are, although you will also be checking for muscle and fat in the loin eye, the area between the spinous and transverse processes.
The scoring system itself is simple. Sheep are scored on a five-point scale, with 1 being emaciated and 5 being obese:
- Emaciated. Spinous processes feel sharp. Fingers pass easily under transverse processes, and a space can be felt between each one. Loin eye shallow and concave with no fat.
- Thin. Spinous processes still prominent, but starting to feel smooth. Fingers can pass under transverse processes with a little pressure. Loin eye moderately deep, but with no fat cover.
- Average. Spinous processes feel smooth and rounded; individual bones can only be felt with pressure. Firm pressure required to feel transverse processes. Loin eye full with moderate fat cover.
- Fat. Spinous processes feel like a hard line down the back and can only be detected with firm pressure. Transverse processes cannot be felt. Loin eye full with a thick fat cover.
- Obese. Spinous processes cannot be felt at all; instead, there is a crease or dip down the back. Loin eye very full and wide with a thick fat cover. Thick fat deposits may be noticed over the ribs, rump, and tail.
The ideal body condition score will depend on where the sheep is in the breeding cycle. A BCS between 3 and 4 is necessary at the beginning of the breeding season to ensure maximum fertility. In the early stages of gestation, the ewe should score no lower than 2.5 at any time. Her condition should also increase before lambing. A score between 3 and 4 is necessary to ensure that she will be able to feed her lambs properly. The more lambs that she has, the higher her score should be. No sheep should ever be allowed to fall below BCS 2.
Body Condition Scoring of Sheep
Handy PDF with illustrations and more information on scoring sheep.