SAC guide helps prepare for lambing

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A NEW SAC technical note will be of particular interest to sheep farmers in the build up to lambing.

Condition scoring in sheep is a simple and very effective tool to assess the body condition of ewes as they approach a stressful time. Growth of their lamb(s) is rapid in the last eight weeks of pregnancy and it is important their body condition is good and the appropriate amount of supplementary feeding offered.

Body condition is assessed by running a hand over the back bone and loin of the animal and determining the amount of body fat and muscle depth. The condition is scored from one, very lean to five, overfat. SAC Technical Note TN640 (available free on the SAC website) gives clear guidance on how body condition scoring and user skills increase with regular use of the technique.

It is particularly useful in hill flocks, where the poor weather and restricted feed availability can impose significantly greater welfare stresses on ewes than lower down. In the period prior to lambing lean hill ewes will struggle to provide for rapid lamb growth and should be drawn out and offered extra feeding.

The present cost of the high energy and protein diets offered to ewes in late pregnancy, makes the appropriate targeting of supplementary feeding important for both economical and welfare reasons. While the mild weather so far this winter has allowed many flock owners to minimise supplementary feeding, it means there is a greater need than usual to establish the nutritional status of the flock now.

Adjusting feeding according to individual body condition scores in the eight to 12 weeks prior to lambing, can have a significant impact on the number of lambs reared successfully. Proper nutritional management of ewes maximises productivity and reduces health and welfare problems associated with animals being lean or overfat.

Lean ewes can be weak and have difficult births. Their lambs can be small and vulnerable due to poor quality colostrum or low milk supply and reduced mothering ability. Fat ewes can have difficult births due to the size of the lamb. Both thin and fat ewes are prone to develop twin lamb disease.

Other key periods to assess condition are at weaning and the eight weeks prior to tupping. If poor body condition is identified at weaning time improvements can be made by using better grazing which can be more cost effective than having to supplement with expensive concentrates later in the year.

For more information on Condition Scoring contact Dr Elspeth Scott, SAC Veterinary Services, St Boswells, 01835 822456. To see TN640 go to http://www.sac.ac.uk/publications/technicalnotes/