Body Condition Scoring Dairy Goats
What is Body Condition Score?
Body condition score (BCS) represents the amount of body reserves an animal has and is an assessment of the amount of muscle and fat covering the body. It is an important indicator of animal health and welfare giving a dairy goat producer the ability to identify animals that are either under or over body condition earlier preventing further complications.
How Do I Body Condition Score?
There are a few different scoring systems that use different scales to express the body condition of a goat. The most commonly used scale is a 5 point scale which classifies goats as very thin (1), thin (2), normal (3), fat (4) or very fat/ obese (5). Does need to be restrained and palpated to give an accurate BCS. Palpation of the sternum and lumbar region, as shown in Figure 1, are also necessary for accurate BCS. Proper training and practice will allow you to body condition score animals in a consistent way. There have been some attempts to develop a way to body condition score animals visually. Visual body condition scoring is quicker, but lacks the accuracy that you get from palpating does to determine BCS. It is recommended to use touch to assess BCS at the sternum which is the breastbone of the goat and lumbar vertebrae which are located right behind the ribs and contain the spinous and transverse processes. Langston University has developed some resources to show you how to body condition score. Additionally, Figure 2, which is adapted from Vieira et al., 2015, shows the body composition of the different BCSs and what you should feel to classify the animal.
Figure 1: The lumbar vertebrae region which contains the spinous and transverses processes of the spine right behind the ribs and sternum region are palpated to determine the body condition of a dairy goat
Figure 2: Representations of body conditions of dairy goats. Adapted from Vieira et al. 2015.
What Should I Be Targeting For?
The objective of body condition scoring is to target and maintain BCS of your does at different times during production. Some important points in time to body condition score are at dry off, kidding, and peak lactation. BCS will fluctuate according to the stage of production, productivity of that doe and if the doe is carrying a single versus multiple kids. It is recommended that does should have a BCS greater than 2.5 and less than 3.5 at dry-off, greater than 2.75 to less than 3.5 at parturition, and no less than 2.5 at peak lactation. Figure 9 shows an example of a doe and how her BCS may change through the production cycle (Koyuncu and Altineckic, 2013).
Figure 3: An example of the change in body condition over the production cycle of a dairy goat.
Does that are too thin throughout gestation (less than BCS 2) will have low milk production and reproductive issues at breeding in the next lactation. On the other hand a doe that is over condition (BCS great than 4) can suffer from metabolic disease (i.e., pregnancy toxemia), reduced efficiency and may have difficulties kidding.
Body condition scoring is useful when done on a routine basis as it identifies does that need attention and helps manage feeding strategies and nutrition on the farm. Change in one BCS can mean a 3-5 kg change in body weight depending on the stage of pregnancy (Koyuncu and Altincekic, 2013). Changes in BCS in an animal may indicate a change in that animal's health status and nutritional status. Following the BCS of a group throughout the production cycle can help you understand how body condition changes according to milk production and stage of gestation giving you a tool to make better nutritional decisions and may help to prevent metabolic disease.
Vieira A., et al. 2015 Development and validation of a visual body condition scoring system for dairy goats with picture-based training. J. Dairy Sci. 98:6597-6608.
Koyunca M., and S. O. Altincekic. 2013. Importance of body condition score in dairy goats. Maced. J. Anim. Sci. 3(2): 167-173.
Villaquiran, M. et al. Body Condition Scores in Goats. Langston University American Institute for Goat Research.
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