Body condition scoring basics for sheep and goats

Purina Animal Nutrition
Keeping goats and sheep at a body condition score 2.5 to 3 is beneficial to their health, reproduction and overall performance.

Arden Hills, Minn. – Knowing the amount of condition or fat cover for sheep and goats is a good practice to implement in any nutrition program.

Condition is commonly measured using a body condition score, or BCS. Body condition adjusts throughout the year for various reasons, including the animal’s age, breeding cycle and weather impacts. Nutrition decisions impact which direction the BCS of your flock or herd goes.

“It’s important to body condition score both sheep and goats because it’s a direct indication of their overall health and reproduction,” says Maggie Amburgey, small ruminant technical specialist with Purina Animal Nutrition. “Scoring body condition during key times like breeding helps evaluate nutritional needs of your flock or herd and gives you a guideline of where things stand.”

Follow these steps to monitor and maintain body condition in your sheep and goats:

How does scoring work?

BCS is monitored in sheep and goats on a five-point scale that increases or decreases by half-point increments.

“The ideal score falls between a range of 2.5 to 4, depending on life stage and energy demand,” says Amburgey. “During breeding season, we like to see ewes and does around 2.5 to 3 BCS. Rams and bucks can have a little higher condition, up to a 4 BCS because they will lose more condition.”

Sheep and goats are considered too thin or under-conditioned when they are at or below 1.5 BCS. Common problems in under-conditioned ewes and does include missing heat cycles which leads to lower conception. Similarly, rams and bucks in lower body condition tend to wear down during a breeding season. Thin animals are also more susceptible to disease because they aren’t receiving adequate nutrition for immune system support.

Sheep and goats become too fat or over-conditioned when they reach 4.5 BCS or higher. Over-conditioned ewes and does can have reduced fertility, causing delayed lambing or kidding and reduced production for their offspring. When rams and bucks are too fat, it may reduce libido, so they won’t follow or stay with females for breeding.

“If you can keep sheep and goats around 2.5 to 3 BCS, reproductive outcomes improve,” says Clay Elliott, a professor and small ruminant nutritionist with Purina Animal Nutrition. “Timely breed back and twinning will also increase, resulting in a higher percentage lamb or kid crop.”

What are you looking for?

Body condition appears in a few visible places on the body. Fat cover typically deposits on the top-line of both sheep and goats, running alongside the vertebrae. For goats, fat will show up around the hipbones, similar to what you might see in cattle. When sheep or goats are especially obese, fat collects in the brisket running below the neck.

“These areas are extremely prominent if sheep or goats are too thin, or they’ll stand out when they have too much fat,” says Amburgey. “When visually appraising, a 2.5 BCS will have a smooth appearance over the ribs. The vertebrae and hip bones will be covered but still visible.”

Purina’s new BCS guides provide a visual reference tool for both sheep and goat producers. Download the sheep and goat guides at purinamills.com.

There is also a hands-on approach you can take when assessing BCS. When sheep or goats are thin, you’ll feel bones easier, like the vertebrae and ribs. On the flip side, if you aren’t able to feel some bones, the animals might have too much condition.

“You don’t want their top-line to ‘cut your hand’ (be bony),” says Amburgey. “Coming right off of the back of their shoulder, you want the top-line to be smooth, but still be able to feel it and not be obese.”

Keep them in condition

Pasture is sometimes thought to be an adequate source of nutrition for sheep and goats. However, forage quality and reproductive timing may require additional supplementation to meet or exceed nutritional needs and keep sheep and goats in proper condition.

“Don’t ignore nutrition, particularly in the lead up to breeding when green pastures might seem sufficient,” says Elliott. “Adding a supplemental fat tub helps increase energy for ewes and does that have just weaned their lambs and kids, a time when females need to gain condition to be flushed for breeding.”

If sheep or goats are under-conditioned, a pelleted ration can supply more targeted supplemental nutrients, so you know they are getting energy each day.

When dealing with over-conditioned animals, you can pull back on the nutrition program slightly by feeding higher fiber rations.

“In all situations, sheep and goats should get mineral to make up for any nutritional gaps,” says Elliott. “Then the supplemental rations can balance for protein and fat.”

Keeping an eye on BCS throughout the year and making nutritional adjustments goes a long way towards optimizing flock and herd performance.

Purina Animal Nutrition LLC (www.purinamills.com) is a national organization serving producers, animal owners and their families through more than 4,700 local cooperatives, independent dealers and other large retailers throughout the United States.