The importance of condition scoring
Condition scoring cattle and sheep gives you a reliable estimate of the body fat reserves, and the health of your livestock. The condition score (between 1 and 5) is independent of livestock size, and a more reliable descriptor than live weight alone.
You can use the Livestock Scorer tool within AgriWebb to input livestock scores on the go. When you record scores for each animal, AgriWebb will automatically calculate the average, minimum and maximum scores for you. The Livestock Scorer also generates a graph of a mob’s average condition score over time, making it a powerful tool to track your livestock’s development.
Condition scoring for beef cattle
When condition scoring cattle, two areas of the animal’s body – the short ribs and around the tail head – are assessed for muscle and fat cover.
MLA guidelines recommend maintaining a body condition score of 3.0 for cows (3.5 for heifers), through to calving. With careful management of the nutrition of pregnant cows, you will minimise the need for calving supervision and reduce calf losses.
There are three reasons you should consider supplement feeding, if necessary, to avoid fluctuations in body condition:
- It is easier to maintain rather than increase condition score.
- Overfeeding in the last three months of pregnancy, in heifers in particular, increases birth weight and dystocia (calving difficulty).
- Underfeeding in the final trimester increases metabolic disorders like ketosis, and increases the likelihood of slow births, dystocia, and can delay the return to oestrus post-calving.
Monitoring your cows’ progress closely is vital. Aim to condition score – reviewing a sample group – every two weeks from 12 weeks before calving.
For bulls, aim for a condition score of 3, at least two months prior to mating. Over-fat bulls (score 4 or 5) can have fertility issues and are more prone to injury during joining.
Condition scoring for sheep
Condition scoring sheep involves assessing the amount of muscle and fat covering the animal’s backbone and the short ribs.
The condition score at lambing is directly related to the birth weight of the lamb, which is directly related to that lamb’s chance of survival. Ideally, ewes should maintain a condition score of 3 throughout pregnancy, as feeding to put on weight is only half as efficient as feeding for maintenance.
It’s worth noting that single-bearing ewes can be too fat at lambing, and their condition score should not exceed 4. Twin-bearing ewes are rarely at risk of being too fat, thanks to higher nutritional demand.
Body condition score for rams should be 3.5 at mating. The Making More From Sheep program, developed by Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) and MLA, recommends feeding lupins or high protein feed for 50 days for optimal breeding health.