Body Condition Score

By Dr. Rodney Kott and Dr. Lisa Surber, Montana State University


The use of both body weight and condition scores can help producers make important feed management decisions.  Condition scoring is a system of describing or classifying breeding animals by differences in relative body fatness.

Generally in the United States, body condition scores ranging from 0 to 5 are used, with 0 being emaciated, near death and 5, a morbidly obese ewe (Body Condition Scoring of Sheep).  The scoring can be accessed visually, but ewes with wool can be deceiving to even the most experienced shepherd.  It is recommended that condition score be determined by feeling by hand the degree of muscling and fat deposition over and around the vertebrae in the loin region (last rib to the hip bone).  The loin vertebra has, in addition to the central spinal column, a vertical portion of the bone termed the Spinous process (backbone) and a short horizontal portion termed the Transverse process.  To accurately check condition score, these must be palpated.


                     Spinous process                                                      Transverse process 

Body condition scoring is easy to learn and use.  As a general rule, mature ewes will vary 6 percent to 7 percent in body weight for every half body condition score.  It may be impractical for large sheep producers to condition score all ewes; however, if a producer condition scored approximately 10 percent to 20 percent of the flock, this would be adequate to get an estimate of the condition of the entire flock.  Regular condition scoring and action on the results will ensure healthier ewes and more pounds of lamb and wool marketed per year.  Ewe condition score will change throughout a year’s production cycle (Target Body Condition Score).  It is recommended to asses ewe body condition score at a certain key time point during a year, such as weaning, breeding, and/or shearing.  This allows producers to manage ewes differently to achieve a target condition score at the most critical periods, late gestation and lactation.  In general, it requires one pound of additional gain for 30 days or one pound of additional high-quality forage for 60 days to improve a ewe one full condition score.

Lower photos demonstrate that it is difficult for the novice shepherd to accurately access a sheep’s body condition score in full wool.


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