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Check Goats and Sheep Body Condition to Gauge Nutrition Management

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 sheep.

For more information, contact Dr. Fernandez at (870) 575-7214 or email him at

January 10, 2014

By Carol Sanders
UAPB School of Agriculture
Fisheries and Human Sciences
(870) 575-7238

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