January 2, 2009

Sheep Farm Husbandry - How to Condition Score Sheep

Sheep, body condition, condition scoring, description of method.

By Dr Clive Dalton

In assessing a sheep’s state of health, it’s a great help to know its liveweight. But this does not tell you it’s “condition” which is basically how fat or thin (skinny) it is. A heavy sheep could be skinny and a light sheep could be fat - so you need both live weight and condition to get the full story.

Where to feel?
  • Stand at the side of the sheep and use your outstretched hand for the job.
  • Lay your thumb along the backbone – pointing forward and use your fingers to feel the bones at the end of the “short ribs”.
  • This will be easier on short-woolled sheep.

What to feel?
  • In this area the backbone of the sheep (spine) has bones sticking up (vertical processes) and bones sticking out the side (horizontal processes).
  • Both of these are used as the location points for scoring.
  • These bones are covered first by muscles and then by a layer of fat.
  • You have to assess both of these to decide on a score.

The scores used
The scores used go from CS Zero (completely emaciated), through CS 1, CS 2, CS 3, CS 4 to CS 5 (extremely obese). The details are below:

Score details

Score 0
  • Rarely seen as the sheep would be near death. They are unfit to travel and unfit for human consumption. Such sheep would risk prosecution of the owner under the Animal Welfare Act 1999.
  • No muscle can be felt between skin and bone.
Score 1
  • The vertical (spine) and horizontal (lumbar) processes are prominent and sharp.
  • You can easily push your fingers below the horizontals and each process can be clearly felt.
  • The loin muscle is thin (wasted) with no fat cover over it.
  • Such sheep will need urgent preferential treatment.
  • GR measurement is 0-5mm.
Score 2
  • The vertical processes are prominent but smooth.
  • Individual processes can be felt only as corrugations and not deep troughs.
  • The horizontal processes are smooth and rounded, but you can still press your fingers under them.
  • The loin muscle is moderately deep but has little fat cover.
  • GR measurement is 5-8mm.

Score 3
  • The vertical processes are smooth and rounded.
  • You can feel the bone with gentle pressure.
  • The horizontal processes are also smooth and well covered.
  • You’ll need to press fairly hard to feel the end of each one.
  • The loin muscle is full with a moderate fat cover.
  • GR measurement is 9-15mm.

Score 4
  • The vertical processes can only be detected as a line.
  • The ends of the horizontal processes cannot be felt.
  • The loin muscles are full and have a thick cover of fat.
  • GR measurement of 15-20mm.

Score 5
  • You cannot feel the vertical processes even with strong pressure.
  • There’s a dimple in the fat layers where the processes should be.
  • The horizontal processes cannot be detected.
  • The loin muscles are very full and covered with a thick layer of fat.
  • There will also be heavy fat deposits in the rump area.
  • GR measurement of over 21mm (overfat).

Minimal condition score targets
The table below shows some general target CS figures.

Disclaimer This material is provided in good faith for information purposes only, and the author does not accept any liability to any person for actions taken as a result of the information or advice (or the use of such information or advice) provided in these pages.

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