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The body condition score of ewes, along with timing of joining and lambing, can be seen as the key to good reproductive performance.
Optimum condition score profile
(for Merino ewes, late winter-spring lambing)
Figure 1 Optimal body condition score (BCS) for ewes (Source: Lifetime Wool - Ewe management handbook)
Changes during gestation
A ewe’s nutritional requirements during pregnancy are related to her body size (live weight), growth rate and wool production, and to the needs of the foetus. The stage of pregnancy is also important, the most critical time being the last four weeks. In most cases you should not allow feed to be a limiting factor during pregnancy, nor, most importantly, at lambing and lactation.
Managing ewe body condition
Use the chart below to determine the body condition score (BCS) of each animal. Ewes should be scored:
Prior to joining
One month prior to lambing (pre-lambing vaccination booster)
Ewes should ideally maintain a BCS of around 3 throughout pregnancy and lambing. If ewes are poor at weaning they should be allowed to gain the necessary condition before joining. Maintaining ewe body condition score at 3 using pasture is the most economical way of ensuring this. Feeding to put on weight (especially if supplements are used) is only one third to half as efficient as feeding for maintenance.
Condition Score 3
The vertebrae are only slightly elevated above a full eye muscle. It is possible to feel each rounded bone but not to press between them. (Forward store condition ideal for most lamb markets now. No excess fat)
The ends of short ribs are well rounded and filled in with muscle. Using 4 fingers pressed tightly together, it is possible to feel the rounded ends but not between them. They are well covered and filled in with muscle.
If pasture is limited, supplements need to be fed to maintain adequate energy levels for pregnancy and lactation. Given that pregnant ewes’ energy requirements are very similar to dry ewes for the first ninety days of pregnancy, the focus for supplementary feeds should be on the final 60 days.
As a general guide, keep stocking density under 18 ewes/ha in twin lambing paddocks. A smaller mob size will also improve lamb survival, most probably due to lower incidence of mismothering.
These are only guides and many other factors must be considered, including the cost of subdivision and management issues with extra mobs.
Maximum recommended flock size
Twin bearing mature ewes
Single bearing mature ewes
Single bearing maiden ewes
Table 1. Suggested mob sizes (Source: Making More From Sheep)
Pasture availability - Twin bearing, lower condition score ewes and maidens should be allocated best pasture and shelter.
Paddock shelter - Wind speed can be controlled through using naturally sheltered (higher than 10cm) lambing paddocks. This can help reduce lamb mortality rates by up to 10%.
Low worm risk - In high rainfall regions, gastrointestinal parasites are a major cause of production loss in ewes and poor growth in lambs. Pregnant ewes should be allocated to paddocks with low worm contamination during lambing.
Paddock and flock size - Lambing paddocks should be stocked to match pasture availability with ewe demand.
Predator control - Predators can cause up to 10% loss in lambs and need to be managed.
Supervision during lambing - Disturbance of the lambing flock should be minimised. However, if supervision is warranted, the best time to enter the paddock is in the afternoon.