Impact of Stage of Production, Nutrition and Cold Weather on Body Condition

One of the most important husbandry skills required by all livestock producers is the ability to recognize the body condition of their animals. Are they too skinny, too fat, or do they have just the right amount of fat stores and muscling? Body condition significantly impacts animal health and productivity. Poor or excessive body condition can result in an increased incidence of metabolic diseases (e.g. pregnancy toxemia), as well as increased neonatal mortality. Maternal underfeeding impairs placental size, kid birth weights, brown fat stores in kids (a critical energy source prior to nursing), colostrum quantity and quality, and milk production. The ideal body weight of an animal will depend on its breed, frame size and nutritional requirements based on growth, stage of lactation and pregnancy.

Body Condition Score by Stage of Production

Courtesy of Dr. Paula Menzies, Ontario Veterinary College

Body Condition Score by Stage of Production

The most critical times to condition score goats are pre-breeding, early gestation, late gestation and early/peak lactation. It is important to score at these times and allow time to make the necessary changes if needed. One body condition score (BCS) is equal to 7 to 10 kg (15.5 to 22 pounds). It only takes two weeks to lose one BCS but it takes longer (6 to 8 weeks) to gain it back. To properly perform body condition scoring, goats should be palpated in the following locations: the backbone behind the ribs, the short ribs and the brisket. At kidding, does need to be in good body condition (score 3 to 3.5) to deal with the very high nutritional demands of early lactation and then have time to recover prior to breeding. For more information on body condition scoring, please visit the Langston University website.

Managing nutrition on a dairy goat operation is a crucial part of a successful operation. Nutrition represents approximately half of the cost of production on dairy operations, but is a key part of achieving high producing does and maintaining good herd health. There is some truth in the old saying: "you get back what you put in". Goats, like other ruminants, need consistency in their feed and feeding routines. Routine ensures that the rumen maintains favourable conditions for the microorganisms that live there, which include well over 150 different species of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and viruses. The interaction of all these microorganisms will affect how feed is being processed and utilized by the goat. The rumen not only processes complex feed sources into a useable, digestible form, but also provides warmth.

The Essential Nutrients

Energy - the energy value of feed is referred to as Total Digestible Nutrients (TDN). As TDN increases so does the energy provided by that feed. Energy deficiency can be caused by not feeding enough or feeding poor quality feed. Not enough energy will result in a decrease in milk production, infertility, decline in body condition, and increased chance of disease and death.

Protein - protein assists in tissue repair and is a major building block for growth and high production. Feeding high levels of protein can be costly, but is essential in having high producing does. Proper ration development and balancing will ensure the most efficient use of feeds.

Vitamins & Minerals - Calcium, phosphorus, and salt are essential minerals that can only be obtained through feed. Special attention to calcium and phosphorus proportions must be considered. Most vitamins on the other hand are relatively available in the feed consumed by the goats and are produced in the rumen. However supplementation of vitamin A and D are necessary and recommended.

Water - water is often the forgotten essential nutrient. Good quality water is key to higher milk production. It is essential to digestion, regulating body temperature, milk production, and many other functions. Access to clean, good quality water will encourage goats to drink.

Being smart about your nutritional choices will ensure the most productivity from your herd. Targeting those does that need nutritional intervention will help you manage issues before it starts affecting the whole herd. Measuring feed quality to know what you are working with and consulting your nutritionist will keep your herd on track.

The Challenges of Winter

It is a challenge to maintain body condition score during cold weather, especially as does reach late gestation, dry period, and early lactation which have high energy demands. When the rumen is full and processing feed, it can help maintain proper body temperature through the colder months. Goats can better tolerate extreme cold weather when there is increased available energy at the feed bunk and feed is available and accessible at all times. Providing adequate dry bedding is also very important in preserving body heat.

This year's harsh winter was a challenge for producers in meeting the nutritional needs of their goats. Many of the top issues seen by veterinarians in the first three months of the year were related to the extreme cold weather and nutritional issues/deficiencies on-farm. Even if the diet is properly balanced, in cold weather goats may not eat enough to maintain their body weight. In cold weather, the nutritional requirements of goats are increased by a minimum of 10 to 15 per cent. Supplementing with grain is the common way to increase the calories in the adult diet, particularly in late gestation and early lactation. However, protein levels must be adequate as well - grain alone will not compensate for poor quality forage. It is important that feeds be analyzed for quality and diets balanced for energy, protein, fibre and mineral levels. Veterinarians reported seeing animals eating adequate looking hay but when analyzed, protein levels were poor, thus accounting for their weight loss. Veterinarians and nutritionists speak of "3 livestock rations": the paper ration, the ration fed to animals and the actual ration that an animal eats. The goal is for all three to be the same but often there are differences.

Talk to your veterinarian or nutritionist for more information on ration analyses, cold weather feeding requirements and the impacts of nutrition on health and production.

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