2nd September 2015

Benefits of Managing Ewe Condition Scores Highlighted In Video and Timeline Guide

A video highlighting the rewards of careful management of ewe condition score has been launched by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS), along with a ewe nutrition timeline guide.

The video features leading New Zealand vet and livestock consultant Trevor Cook who believes there is potential to maximise the use of grazed grass, without compromising production, if the nutritional requirements of ewes at different times of year are fully understood. 

Mr Cook is in Scotland this week and speaking at QMS’s network of Grazing Groups around the country to help farmers learn more about how to improve pasture management and optimise livestock production on their own farms. 

Michael Blanche, QMS Knowledge Transfer specialist, said: “The correct nutrition of ewes lays the foundation for a successful and profitable flock, and knowing how to condition score is the simplest and most effective way to assess if you are feeding your ewes correctly.”

In the new video Mr Cook demonstrates a quick, effective way of assessing individual Body Condition Score (BCS).

“Having the skill to make the judgment on the score quickly makes the task simple to carry out. If it’s new to you or if you wish to teach the next generation how to assess condition in ewes, the film will help you to become proficient and accurate,” said Mr Cook.

“Ideally, condition scoring should take place at two key stages in the production cycle – post weaning and scanning. At both stages, there is an opportunity to identify the ewes that are below target and raise their condition so they can achieve optimum performance.”

Post weaning, he said, farmers can draw out ewes with BCS 3 or less. Giving this group the best grass to graze and a minimum of 4cm good quality pasture will provide their energy requirements in order to raise their condition to BCS 3.

“Budget for eight weeks to move up a condition score, but you can do it in six weeks. At this point, ewes with a score of BCS 4 can actually be put onto poorer grass or used to tidy up paddocks. This will free up more pasture for the leaner ewes or finishing lambs.”

Mr Cook added: “Reducing the number of very poor condition ewes going to the tup will deliver a big lift in scanning results and even eventual lamb performance.”

The condition scoring process should be repeated at scanning time, when again ewes below the target of BCS 3 can be drawn out for preferential feeding. 

Ewes expecting twins or triplets will struggle to consume their nutritional requirements in late pregnancy so often rely on their body reserves as a buffer.

The period between scanning and the five weeks prior to lambing is the last chance to put condition onto thin ewes and hence build them up to BCS 3 by lambing time.

BCS also has a massive impact on lamb survival. Research has shown that ewes in optimum condition (BCS 3) at lambing give birth to decent-sized lambs, have increased mothering ability, produce more milk and wean heavier lambs with higher survival rates.

To help farmers manage the condition of their ewes throughout the year, QMS has developed a ‘Ewe Nutrition Timeline’ poster, which contains a wealth of information about target BCS and feeding levels for ewes throughout the breeding season. 

Emily Grant, QMS Grazing Group Co-ordinator, said: “The timeline has some really useful information for farmers. It highlights how maintaining condition score and being aware of the ewe’s increasing nutritional requirements are important for maximising efficiency and, therefore, profitability.” 

The timeline also highlights the Golden 20 days around tupping when farmers are encouraged to offer ewes the best quality grass to enhance ovulation rates and embryo survival. The timeline can also help producers select a lambing date to maximise the availability of high-quality spring grass to help drive ewe lactation.

The timeline is aimed at pasture-based lowland or upland flocks lambing at the end of March or later, and is available free of charge from QMS by calling 0131 472 4040 or emailing info@qmscotland.co.uk

To view the Rewards of Ewe Condition Scoring video, please visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8KoRzvA-cfY

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