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Culling and Body Condition Scoring your Flock

Eamonn Dempsey, Teagasc Advisor in Tralee, Co. Kerry, discusses culling and body condition scoring your flock. Culling is one of the most important jobs on a sheep farm & should take place once ewes have dried off after weaning.


Experience in culling is vital to have a positive impact on flock productivity and prolificacy. There are many different reasons why a ewe might be culled, some of which are not visual so the availability of good records collated during the year is needed to support the culling process. All ewes regardless of age, should be assessed for fitness as breeding ewes to reduce problems and workload during the coming mating and lambing season. If you have carried out a lambing review, you will have identified the causes of lamb mortality and with good records you will know what issues the ewes your assessing presented around lambing time e.g. poor milk yield. 

The main reasons for culling ewes are feet, teeth condition, age, poor body condition, udder and reproduction problems. When assessing a ewe for culling, generally the first check is the mouth to identify if undershot/overshot and age of the ewe. Lame ewes should be separated from the main flock and treated, if treatment fails they need to be culled. If your records indicate a ewe had prolapse in the past she should not be kept. The udder should be examined for pendulous udder, lumps or lesions and ewes that have had blind teat or mastitis should be culled. Scanning identifies barren ewes, however culling young ewes for barreness increases replacement cost unnecessarily as the likelihood of being barren on a second occasion is low. Rams also need to be assessed in advance of the next breeding season to ensure good functionality. Make sure that each ram is walking correct, check reproductive organs and cull any old rams. Have replacement rams on your farm two months prior to mating to allow them to acclimatise and get used to the different feeding regime.  

Body Condition Scoring

It is also important to have your ewes assembled at least two months before the mating season so any impending issues can be resolved, particularly body condition. Body condition scoring is a subjective method of assessing the condition of a sheep on a scale of 1 to 5 by handling the sheep along the top and side of the back bone in the loin area. The target condition score for ewes at mating is 3.5 and for rams at mating 4. Generally the better the body condition score at mating, the higher the ovulation rate and therefore the higher the potential lambing crop. Overfat ewes i.e. ewes with a condition score of greater than 4 at breeding tend to have a higher incidence of barreness. Ewes with a condition score of less than 3 at mating will be more responsive to the effects of flushing than those with a condition score of 3 -3.5 at mating.

Assessment of your flock after drying off to pinpoint problems and addressing health issues will ensure more productive ewes are kept for the next breeding season. Once culling is completed, your focus can turn to genetic improvement in the flock through ewe and ram replacement selection.

Find out more about Sheep here. If you liked reading this article you might like to read 'Best practice on spent sheep dip and footbath solutions'. Teagasc Advisors are regular contributors of articles on topics of interest to farmers here on Teagasc Daily.