The blistering heat of the past couple of months has been affecting the UK badly, keeping people indoors or in the shade where possible so they do not risk sun burn or sun stroke. However, for farm animals it is a more difficult task to maintain a healthy temperature.
The hot, dry summer is making it hard for sheep producers to ensure that their lambs are fit and ready to be sold, as well as keeping their ewes in a healthy condition. The tough spring, which involved multiple snow storms, also left farmers struggling to maintain a healthy herd. The weather has not been kind to farmers this year and resulted in a lot of dead animals which lead to a lot of fallen stock collection, animal disposal and animal recycling.
The stagnant grass growth across the country has caused grazing pressure to rise at a time when most farmers are attempting to wean and finish lambs before they need to get their ewes in peak condition for mating (tupping) season.
Fiona Lovatt is a sheep vet at Flock Health, and has given farmers the advice to divide their sheep into different groups depending on their body conditioning score (BCS), which is a scale used to measure the health of a ewe or lamb. Farmers should prioritise feeding up their lambs and getting them away, whilst maintaining the health of their ewes. The sheep should be grouped into thin, fit and fat, so they can be easily managed. The sheep producers should aim to get ewes at a BCS of 3.5 by at least 10 days before tupping to increase the chances of successful mating and pregnancy. It takes six weeks for ewes to gain one condition score point, it is important that they are still maintained and given attention now. However, by separating the sheep into condition groups, farmers can focus on the thinner sheep to keep them alive and preventing the need for fallen stock collection, animal disposal or animal recycling.
The BCS for ewes can be scored between one and five, with one being the thinnest and five being the fattest. To body condition score ewes, farmers should stand at the side of the sheep and use their outstretched hand to lay their thumb along the backbone pointing forward, then use your fingers to feel the bones at the end of the ‘short ribs’. The feeling of the vertical and horizontal processes (bones sticking out from the spine) and the loin gives a body condition score.
Knowing the body condition score allows producers to identify the ewes that need the most care and give them the correct supplements to ensure that they will be healthy in time for tupping season. By moving lambs onto supplements, pressure will be reduced on ewes and the grass on the farm, which can instead be put into storage for winter feed.
By maintaining the health of their herd, farmers can make sure that the largest amount of sheep possible survive and remain in good health. Poor health can lead to complications and illnesses that will add more expense to raising the animals, such as vets bills and medication. If the animal dies, there will be even more expense in making sure that fallen stock collection, animal disposal and animal recycling are carried out in an appropriate manner.