Every goat producer has animals that are either too thin (under-conditioned) or too fat (over-conditioned). Failure to recognize these animals and take corrective actions will cost dearly in terms of decreased fertility, increased disease or internal parasite incidence, decreased milk production, and increased operating costs. Thus, goats need to be maintained with a moderate amount of body condition.
When overall body condition starts to decrease in the herd, it is a sign that managerial intervention is needed such as supplemental feeding, deworming and pasture rotation. Conversely, when overall body condition starts to increase in the herd, it is a sign that the producer should reduce supplemental feeding. Ignoring an animal’s body condition and waiting to intervene until goats become either too thin or too fat may result in production and/or animal losses or decreased profits from overfeeding. Therefore, producers need to develop skills in assessing body condition of their goats so that a desired moderate body condition can be maintained.
Body condition score (BCS) has been shown to be an important practical tool in assessing the body condition of cattle, sheep and goats because BCS is the best simple indicator of available fat reserves which can be used by the animal in periods of high energy demand, stress or suboptimal nutrition.
Scoring is performed in goats using a BCS ranging from 1.0 to 5.0, with 0.5 increments. Examples of BCS of 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, 4.0, and 5.0 are given, using photographs and written descriptions. Assigning the 0.5 score increment is done when the animal being evaluated is intermediate to the BCS described. A BCS of 1.0 is an extremely thin goat with no fat reserves, and a BCS of 5.0 is a very over-conditioned, or obese, goat. In most cases, healthy goats should have a BCS of 2.5 to 4.0. A BCS of 1.0 , 1.5 or 2.0 indicates a management or health problem. A BCS of 4.5 or 5 is almost never observed in goats under normal management conditions; however, these BCS scores can sometimes be observed in show goats.
It is important to note that BCS cannot be assigned by simply looking at an animal. Instead, the animal must be touched and felt. The first body area to feel in determining BCS is the lumbar area, which is the area of the back behind the ribs containing the loin. Scoring in this area is based on determining the amount of muscle and fat over and around the vertebrae. Lumbar vertebrae have a vertical protrusion (spinous process) and two horizontal protrusions (transverse process). Both processes are used in determining BCS. Run one hand over this area and try to grasp these processes with fingertips and hand. The second body area to feel is the fat covering on the sternum (breastbone). Scoring in this area is based upon the amount of fat that can be pinched. A third area is the rib cage and fat cover on the ribs and intercostal (between ribs) spaces.
With practice, evaluating the BCS of an animal will only take about 10-15 seconds. The addition of BCS as a regular part of the management program leads to more effective monitoring of feeding and herd health for a healthy and productive herd.
Reference: Detweiler, G., T. Gipson, R. C. Merkel, A. Goetsch, and T. Sahlu. 2008. Body Condition Scores in Goats. Pages 127-133 in Proc. 23rd Ann. Goat Field Day, Langston University, Langston, OK.