All shepherds should learn how to body condition score their animals. It is the basis for all nutrition programs. Many of you probably already do this on an informal basis. Most of us look at our sheep periodically and think they are too fat or too thin or just right. To put it into a more formal context we need to assign numbers to the different conditions we observe. The most commonly used system is outlined below:
1 = very thin, walking skeleton
2 = thin but some cover
3 = moderate fleshing, your average ewe
4 = some cover over the body, ribs not visible
5 = fat, no bony prominences visible
Do not get hung up on being precise. The scores are subjective and will vary some between shepherds. The main thing is to get you to focus on looking at your sheep. If the sheep are in fleece you will need to handle them to make the body scoring assessment. You can assign half scores for those that fall in between categories.
The two most critical times to asses your ewes BCS will be prior to breeding and 4-6 weeks before lambing. You want your ewes to be gaining in condition leading up to breeding. This is more important when you are breeding early in the season and out of season. If your ewes are scoring 1-2 you will need to supplement them starting at least 2 weeks prior to ram introduction. The amount depends on where you are starting from. If my ewes are running scores that average around 2.5 I will supplement with ½ lb. of shelled corn. Some producers just move the ewes to a better pasture. By increasing the score you will increase conception and lambing rate.
The second area when ewe condition must be assessed is prior to lambing. Most of the fetal growth occurs in the last 1/3 of gestation. In the first part of gestation quality and quantity of feed is not as critical. Ewes only need to increase weight slightly. I recommend shearing prior to lambing. This will give you an opportunity to closely observe their body score. If there is a great disparity in the scores you may want to divide the expectant flock into skinny and fatty groups and feed accordingly. Remember to increase grain gradually. Ruminants are unforgiving when itcome to rapid increases in carbohydrates. Most ewes should be in the 3.5 to 4 category at lambing.
Some specific disease conditions that occur in sheep are as follows:
1. Pregnancy toxemia — aka ketosis, pregnancy disease — this occurs when the late term ewe is very thin or very fat. In the thin ewe she is not getting enough calories to supply her nutritional needs and those of her lamb(s). It is more common when the ewe is carrying multiples. Treatment consists of IV or oral dextrose and caesarian section to remove the lambs and their drain on the ewe's nutritional status. If a breeding date is not known the feti may not be viable. As in most cases, prevention is the best policy. Asses the ewe's body score ahead of lambing and adjust feed accordingly. The over fat pregnant ewe can also pose a problem. These girls are usually in the 4.5 to 5 body score. Fat accumulates in their liver and decreases its ability to function properly. With the added stress of late term pregnancy these animals often go off feed and go down. Again dextrose supplementation is indicated along with B vitamins to help support the liver. Caesarian sections can also be done to eliminate the stress of the feti. The prognos1s is grave. It all depends on the severity of damage to the liver and how soon it is recognized. If your ewes are too fat going into late gestation decrease the feed and increase exercise. You may need to eliminate the grain portion of the ration and/or decrease the quality of the forage being fed. The fat ewe syndrome is more common on ewes between 3 and 7 years of age.
2. Selenium/Vitamin E deficincy — aka white muscle disease. Selenium and vitamin E need to be present in sufficient quantities for muscles and the immune system to function properly. Selenium is classified as a micro mineral as only small amounts are needed. At one time it was even considered a toxdn. Most soils in the East and Midwest are deficient in Se and we need to supplement it. Unfortunately what the government allows is only about half what today's high producing animals require. It can be supplemented in the feed and through free choice mixes. Some of you may have used BoSe injections before as well. This is a presciption product made for calves. Unfortunately due to a hurricane it is not currently available. Blood test can be done to determine the level of selenium in your flock. By including it in my feed supplement and through the salt/mineral mixture I have found I do not need to inject.
Vitamin E works hand in hand with Se. Both need to be present to prevent weak muscles andcvpoor immune systems. Most commercial sheep feed supplements contain this vitamin. The only problem is in lambs before they are eating sufficient feed to meet their requirements. This is why I recommend an oral supplement called Survive be given to lambs at birth to satisfy their requirement for Vitamin E.
3. Copper toxicity - every year I see a case or two of copper poisoning in sheep. Ovines have a lower requirement for this mineral than other livestock species. I have seen several cases that resulted when cattle feeds were used for sheep or feed mixers were not adequately flushed out after hog feeds were mixed. Deaths can be acute or take several days to occur. Symptoms can be subtle. The most common one mentioned is jaundice but I only see this in about half the cases.The best way to diagnose the problem is by sending liver samples to a competent lab. Usually not all animals are equally affected. Some individuals have a higher tolerances and it also depends if the increase in Copper levels was gradual or sudden in nature.
Copper and molybdenum levels in feed can be measured to avoid problems. Mo acts to tie up excessive Cu. Therefore if Mo is below normal or Cu is above normal the end result will be copper poisoning. To complicate it further high sulfur levels in the feed or water can also lead to copper problems by tying up the Mo.