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PINE BLUFF, Ark. -- Looking at sheep or goats to tell if they are losing, maintaining
or gaining weight is often difficult, says Dr. David Fernandez, Cooperative Extension
Program livestock specialist at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. Wool or
winter coats of hair on sheep and goats can make eyeballing difficult and unreliable.
Instead, Dr. Fernandez suggests using Body Condition Scoring (BCS), an easy way to
keep track of the nutritional status of a flock or herd and get a good indication
of the health, nutritional state and potential reproductive success of a flock or
herd. BCS is a subjective measure of the body fatness and muscle cover of sheep or
goats. BCS is rated on a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 being emaciated and 5 being extremely
fat. Most sheep or goats will have a BCS ranging from 2 to 4.
Keeping accurate health records is important, says Dr. Fernandez. A changing BCS can
tell you quickly whether or not the nutritional needs of animals are being met. BCS
can alert ranchers to individual animal or flock level health problems. Heavy parasite
loads, bad teeth, diseases and lameness can cause animals to lose condition because
they are not eating or nutrients are being diverted to parasites or lost to diarrhea.
BCS can indicate potential reproductive success. Thin animals are less likely to breed
or produce twins. Obese animals are less likely to have twins, more likely to have
pregnancy toxemia and have increased difficulty giving birth because of additional
fat deposits in the pelvic birth canal.
When culling animals to reduce feed costs, ranchers can use BCS to determine which
animals to cull – those that have difficulty maintaining their body condition. BCS
is a way of comparing one animal to another. Body weight for an animal from a large
breed may be identical to one from a small breed, but the level of body fatness will
differ. The smaller animal will carry a great deal more fat at the same weight. Most
does or ewes raised in Arkansas should have a BCS of 3 to 3.5, says Dr. Fernandez.
How is body condition scored? Feel the muscle and fat along the backbone between the
last rib and the front of the hip bones; the lumbar vertebrae of the spine. Feel along
the spinal processes of the lumbar vertebrae between the last rib and the hip bones
to measure body condition in your ewes.
Does or ewes should be a BCS 3 for best reproductive outcomes. An animal with a BCS
3 will have spinal processes that feel similar to your palm just below the fingers.
But, body condition scoring can be challenging. Young females usually do not have
as much condition as older females because they are still growing. Muscle and bone
will grow before fat will be deposited so their BCS may be lower without reflecting
poor nutrition management, says Dr. Fernandez.
Late pregnant females may be difficult to evaluate because of the size and location
of the growing fetuses or rumen fill. It is also possible for does and ewes in late
pregnancy to lose condition quickly because of the high demands of fetuses if they
don’t get enough to eat. Sheep with heavy coats may be harder to evaluate than shorn
For more information, contact Dr. Fernandez at (870) 575-7214 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
January 10, 2014
By Carol SandersWriter/editorUAPB School of AgricultureFisheries and Human Sciences(870) email@example.com