Washington State University

Small Farms Team

Evaluating Goat Feeding Management through Body Condition Scoring

By Gary Fredricks Garyf@wsu.edu
Washington State University Extension

Abstract

Body condition scoring is a visual evaluation of a doe’s fat reserves and is used to determine the effectiveness of the owner’s feeding management. The body conditioning scale ranges from one to five. A score of one denotes a very thin doe, while a score of five characterizes an extremely fat doe. Body scoring is a visual analysis used to determine if your herd’s reproductive and production needs are being meet. As a doe goes through an entire lactation, her body condition score changes as fat reserves are used for milk production and are restored during late lactation. At the start of a new lactation, the doe is in a negative energy balance. Her feed intake is not enough to accommodate her high level of milk production. To compensate, fat reserves are used until feed intake fulfills milk production requirements. The doe’s condition score drops as her fat reserves are used to make milk. Once feed intake matches milk production needs, the body condition score increases as fat reserves are restored. Scores can be used to evaluate how successful your feeding management style matches the dietary needs of your herd.

Introduction

There are as many different ways to feed a goat as there are blades of grass in a pasture. Feeding methods differ according to herd health, weather conditions, feed availability, feed cost, management styles, genetics of the herd and the producer’s goal for milk production. All these factors impact the herd’s production potential. As you determine your ration, there are many different recommendations that you can use that will improve feed efficiency, reduce incidence of nutritional diseases and promote milk production. Once your ration and feeding management style are established, you must determine whether or not it is meeting the productive and reproductive needs of your goat herd. Body condition scoring is a technique you can use to evaluate if the dietary needs of your herd are being met.

Body Conditioning

Body condition scoring is a technique that allows you to evaluate the fat reserves of your goat. The conditioning scale is based on a one to five score. The score of one denotes a very thin doe, while the score of five characterizes a doe that is very fat. Body scoring is a visual analysis of your doe’s condition at a particular stage of lactation. A herd can quite easily be evaluated monthly requiring very little time. As a doe goes through an entire lactation, her body condition score changes as fat reserves are used for milk production and are later restored during late lactation. At the start of a new lactation, the doe is in a negative energy balance. Her feed intake is not enough to accommodate her high level of milk production. To compensate, fat reserves are used until feed intake fulfills milk production requirements. The score should increase as time passes and fat reserves are restored. Scores can be used to evaluate the success of your feeding management style. The following summarizes the body condition scoring system.

Score 1 (Body Condition is very poor)

  • Deep cavity under tail and around tail head. Skin drawn tight over pelvis with no tissue detectable in between.
  • No fatty tissue felt at loin. Pins, Hooks, and short ribs can be seen; edges feel sharp.

Score 2 (Body condition is poor)

  • Cavity around tail head is evident, but less prominent. No fatty tissue felt between skin and pelvis, but skin is supple.
  • Ends of short ribs are sharp to the touch, but individual ribs can no longer be seen. While bones are less prominent, they are still angular and can be easily distinguished by touch.

Score 3 (Body condition is good)

  • Slight cavity lined with fatty tissue apparent at tail head. Area between pins has smoothed out.
  • Ends of short ribs can be felt with moderate pressure. Slight depression visible in loin area. Hooks and pins can be felt but have some covering of flesh. Hook, pin and backbones have lost angularity and appear smooth.

Score 4 (Body condition is fat)

  • Depression between pins and tail head filling in. Patches of fat apparent under skin. Pelvis felt only with firm pressure.
  • Short ribs cannot be felt even with firm pressure. No depression visible in loin between backbone and hipbones. Back and area between hooks and pins appear flat.

Score 5 (Body condition is grossly fat)

  • Tail head buried in fatty tissue. Area between pins and tailbone rounded, skin distended. No part of pelvis felt, even with firm pressure.

The following table describes how scores relate to potential problems and the stage of lactation. Scores of a minus (-) and plus (+) are used to further describe body appearance.

Score Condition
1 Skin and bones. Goat is experiencing a serious health problem and is not eating enough feed.
2 to 2- (low 2) Severe negative energy balance in doe for early lactation. A problem either exists or may be developing.
2+ (high 2) High producer in early lactation.
3 Milking doe in good nutrient balance.
3+ to 4- Late lactation and dry doe in good condition.
4 The doe is over conditioned causing her to be an inefficient milk producer. Suggests a doe with an extremely long lactation if milking and a potential kidding problem if dry.
5 Severely fat: a candidate for fat doe syndrome.

How To Determine the Body Condition Score

To determine the body condition score, look at the tail head and loin area. The descriptions listed above should provide you with guidance to score goats. The main emphasis is to look for the lack or excess of body fat covering the goat. Once scores have been determined for each animal, use the average score of the herd to properly evaluate your feeding program. Remember to consider the herd average score and do not base ration changes on a few individual animals. Every herd has individual goats that are too thin or too fat. If a feeding problem does exist, it will affect most of the goats in your herd.

When body scoring a doe, try not to consider her stage of lactation or milking ability. Evaluate her on what condition she is in, not what she should be. If you're having difficulty, have a friend come in and body condition score your herd. Someone unfamiliar with your herd usually is not biased by production records and may see potential problems. As your doe goes through lactation, she will lose and then gain her fat reserves causing her score to change. Do not expect that once a score is established that it will stay the same. Body condition scores can indicate potential feeding problems in the herd.

Late Lactation

During this period, a doe no longer efficiently produces milk. You would expect the body condition score to go from a 2 to a 4- as fat reserves are restored. Forty to fifty percent of the nutrients consumed during this period are used to support milk production. The rest of the nutrients cover the requirements of fetal growth and recovery of fat reserves lost during early lactation. The doe should recover her body fat reserves (body conditioning) prior to kidding. Body fat reserves are put back 38% more efficiently during late lactation than during the dry period. A doe's metabolism is adjusted at this time to restore the fat reserves lost during early lactation. It takes less feed to restore a goats condition during late lactation than when feeding during the dry period. Monitor your doe during this time to see that she regains her conditioning prior to the dry period, but that she does not become over conditioned. Excess fat reserves can cause higher incidence of metabolic diseases and kidding difficulty later on.

Dry Period

During this period, your goal should be to maintain the goat's body condition. The body condition score should remain between 4- and 3+. Remember that body condition and weight are not the same thing. Body condition refers to the animals fat reserves. Accumulation of fat reserves are seen between the hip and pin bones, the short ribs and around the tail head. As fat accumulates, these areas will fill out and bones will be more difficult to feel. Over conditioning of the goat is characterized by the tail head buried in fat. It will also be very difficult to feel the hipbone due to the fat covering. You expect the doe's weight to increase as the fetus continues to grow, but fat reserves should remain steady during this time.

Once proper conditioning has been achieved in late lactation, the doe should not accumulate further fat reserves. The ration should be adjusted to less energy and less protein. Energy is supplied primarily through the grain. Excessive feeding of energy or protein will cause over conditioning of the doe. A target to aim for is to provide 11/2 pounds of 12%-14% protein grain mix fed with good quality grass hay. It is extremely important that the doe receives a good supply of forage that contains long stemmed fiber in it.

It is essential that a doe be dried off before kidding. If a doe continues at a high level of milk production or is over conditioned, there is a temptation to continue milking her. The doe requires an adequate dry period of at least 60 days to allow udder tissue to regenerate. If the doe does not have a sufficiently long dry period, then her milk production in her next lactation will be reduced. For example, it has been shown that if a doe receives a dry period of only 30 days, the milk production during the next lactation can be limited by as much as 31%. By decreasing grain levels, milk production will drop low enough to allow proper drying off.

Feeding large amounts of alfalfa hay should be discouraged as it has a high level of protein and calcium. Feeding high levels of calcium promotes greater incidence of milk fever. Once dietary protein demand by the doe is met, excess protein will be converted ineffectively to fat or excreted through the urine. Either way, you are spending money for hay that your doe does not need. If feeding alfalfa is the only option, feed it in limited amounts.

Over Conditioning

Over conditioning of does deserves further comment. A doe is over conditioned when her body score is 4 or higher. Over conditioning increases the incidence of metabolic diseases by 43%. These diseases include ketosis, milk fever, displaced abomasum and fat doe syndrome. All these in turn can increase the incidence of secondary problems such as retained placenta, mastitis, lower milk production and kidding difficulty. Once the doe has been dried off, it is important not to dramatically change her condition. If a dried off doe is over conditioned or too thin, dramatically changing her condition during the dry period will make her more susceptible to a metabolic problem. If a doe is out of condition, slow manipulation of her diet will cause her fewer problems in early lactation.

Early Lactation

During this stage of lactation, milk production will rapidly rise and should peak between 50 to 70 days, yet dry matter intake does not peak until 75 to 100 days. Thus, dry matter intake should be 15 -20% below optimal levels for top milk production. The doe is not able to consume enough nutrients to meet her needs for producing greater levels of milk. To compensate for this lack of energy intake, fat reserves in the body are metabolized to provide the energy necessary to accommodate higher milk production. Adequate fat reserves are needed to insure that peak production occurs. The fat reserves accumulated during the previous lactation determine the level of peak milk production and the ability of the doe to maintain high milk production levels during early lactation. During this period, the doe continues to lose weight until dry matter intake peaks and completely provides enough nutrients to support milk production.

Since energy is usually the nutritional factor that limits milk production, a high proportion of concentrate (grain) is added to the ration. Most rations tend to have a balance of 40-50% forage and 50 -60% concentrates. When forages are fed above 55% of the ration, energy is limited. This results in a drop in milk production and a greater incidence of ketosis. Rations with over 60% concentrates cause the rumen pH to drop below 6.2. As the rumen becomes more acidic, those rumen microorganisms that primarily digest fiber are killed. This reduces fiber digestion which causes milk fat depression. Further drop in rumen pH due to high grain intake will cause acidosis, displaced abomasum, feed intake reduction and lower milk production.

It is important to maintain a proper balance between forages and concentrates in the ration. The challenge is to maximize energy intake while providing adequate fiber intake. A minimum of 17% crude fiber is required in the doe's ration and this can make it difficult to meet the doe's energy needs. The higher the fiber content, usually equates to a lower energy level of the feed. Forages such as alfalfa or high quality grass hay tend to be high in fiber and low in energy. While inadequate energy intake will limit milk production, the doe requires adequate fiber intake to maintain rumen health and milk fat production.

Feeding wet feeds, finely chopped silage or high concentrate levels will increase the doe's fiber requirement. The key to meeting required fiber and energy intake is to feed high quality forages. Forages should contain a maximum amount of protein and/or energy allowed for that particular feed. Feeding more concentrates will not substitute for forage quality and will not satisfy fiber requirements. By feeding high quality forage, the doe's fiber requirements can be fulfilled, her need for protein and energy can be met, and and you can use a lower percentage of concentrates in the feed ration. Feeding high quality feeds saves you money in your rations and in your herd health.

If your goal is to maximize milk production while maintaining a healthy doe, then feed high quality feeds,have proper conditioning of the doe at kidding, and provide a high level of energy in the ration.

Summary

Body condition scoring is an easy method to evaluate the effectiveness of your feeding management. When a problem occurs, evaluate your feeding management and consider the following main points.

  • Always feed the best forage possible.
  • Make sure your ration is balanced and meets the needs of the doe relative to her stage of lactation. Select good forage as the foundation of your ration. Use concentrates and minerals to supplement those nutrients not adequately supplied by the forage.
  • Body fat lost during high milk production in early lactation should be replaced during late lactation and not during the dry period. Your doe should enter the dry period in proper condition.
  • Does in early lactation are energy deficient. They cannot eat enough to sustain top production. For top production, feed a ration high in energy that contains at least 17% crude fiber.
  • Feeding forages and concentrates at the same time promotes greater feed efficiency. The buffering action from forage consumption controls rumen acidity and promotes forage digestibility.
  • Consider feed additives carefully. Feed additives such as niacin, buffers, protected fats, protected proteins, zinc, selenium, yeast and others can increase milk production. Success may vary between herds depending on the type of feeds in the ration, feeding management and the doe's lactational status. Calculate costs and measure milk increases to be sure the product justifies its use.

References

Henricks, A.J. and V.A. Isler, 1989. Body-condition Scoring as a Tool for Dairy Herd Management, Extension Circular 363, Penn State College of Agriculture.

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