Condition scoring sheep is an easy and accurate method of estimating the condition or 'nutritional well-being' your sheep flock. It is particularly useful for monitoring pregnant and lactating ewes. It requires you to assess the amount of tissue and fat covering the backbone and the short ribs of each sheep. Each assessment should only take a matter of seconds, and condition scoring enough sheep to get an assessment of the mob will only take 20 minutes or so and can be done while sheep are in for other husbandry activities.
Condition scoring a mob twice over a month can give a reliable indication of weight loss or gain. This is useful, particularly in the lead up to mating, as condition at mating can have a significant impact on lambing percentage. Condition scoring during the dry period will give much more accurate information on how the flock is travelling compared with pasture assessment, as pasture quantity and quality are difficult to assess at this time.
A random sample of 25 sheep from the mob will give an average condition score that can then be used to make decisions such as feed budgeting.
Condition scoring is often more useful than live weight in that it;
- Doesn't rely on a weigh crate being set up - can be done anywhere a sheep can be yarded
- Can be done without having to correct for wool growth or the influence of wet wool on live weight
- Needs no correction for weight of the foetus in pregnant ewes or the weight of fluid during lactation
- Can be used on a mob of sheep with different frame sizes
View the 'How to condition score' video on YouTube! Click here
Condition Score in Relation to Fat Score
Many people are familiar with fat scoring through the marketing of prime lambs. Prime lambs are often assessed on fat score over the last long rib at the GR site 110 mm from the backbone. Fat score is an estimate of the total tissue depth (fat + muscle). There is a strong correlation between condition score and fat score measured as tissue depth at the GR site (in mm) but the relationship is not linear. Fat score 2 (5 to 10 mm) covers the wide range in condition score from 2 to 3.5 (store to greater than forward store). Hence, when managing ewe flocks we believe it is more sensitive to use condition score rather than fat score. See more detail and conversion guidelines.
How to Condition Score
The animal should be standing in a relaxed position. It should not be tense, crushed by other animals or held in a crush. If the animal is tense it is not possible to feel the short ribs and get an accurate condition score. Place your thumb on the backbone just behind the last long rib and your fingers against the stubby ends of the short ribs. Use the scoring system described below to assign a score. Many people use a system of half scores such as 2, 2.5, 3, 3.5 etc.
Randomly draft 25 sheep into a race or choose a random group from the middle of the mob. Many people choose a couple of animals from each race full when drenching or doing some other animal husbandry task. Be sure to record the scores so that you can calculate the average. A simple method of calculating the median of the mob is to use the Condition Score worksheet. This not only gives you a middle point but also shows the range of scores and whether there is a significant tail in the mob.
Condition Score Description
Using the Condition Score Yard Book
Record the condition score of each sheep with an 'X' on the chart. The median score of the mob is the score at the middle of the distribution (between the 12th and 13th cross when counting from the left of the score sheet) and in the example below it is 3.0 (or as an average it is 2.8).
A paper version of this note book, suitable for 4 mobs, is available here: Print Condition Scoring Yard Book
A double sided version that incorporates the descriptions and the blue chart is available to download here.