When you have been raised around dogs and cats, you know when they are a little….chunky and you know when they are too skinny. But what happens when you are new to goats and have absolutely no idea what a goat should look like? Let’s talk about how to judge the body condition of a goat.
When we first got Champ, we noticed that she seemed a little skinny. Nothing terrible, but we didn’t know a whole lot about goats. From September through November, we realized that her body condition wasn’t fantastic, but she was eating and happy. Then in December through February, we got really excited because she was starting to get pretty chunky. We were over the moon because she was so thin when we went into winter, we were worried she may not have enough fat stores. Come March, we realized we had a really big problem.
She wasn’t chunky, she was pregnant
As someone who takes pride in my knowledge of animals, it was absolutely shocking when we figured out that she wasn’t chunky, she was pregnant. All that weight we thought she was gaining, turned out to be babies. When the babies dropped, we discovered that she was skin and bones. I felt terrible. We were told via the Vet and ultrasound, that she wasn’t pregnant. So we didn’t increase her feed. She had access to quality hay and occasionally grain, but nothing else. My poor girl had almost zero fat stores.
While I am incredibly grateful that she pulled through, it was really close. I refuse to allow any animal of mine to suffer due to my lack of education. We had already lost enough animals to that. I started devouring all the information on grain, pelleted grasses, hays, and other feeds that I could get my hands on. But one thing that “eluded” me was how to tell if your goat is chunky or skinny.
Livestock are not like pets
Chances are, you have had a dog or a cat. When they are skinny, you can tell pretty easily. Same thing if they are carrying a little extra weight. And it’s almost always seen in their waist first. With livestock, specifically ruminants, that is not the case.
Because of how a ruminants abdomen is set up, they don’t necessarily have a waist. So to use that as a determining factor isn’t really going to work. Instead, you FEEL their “fat pads”. What that means is that you cannot correctly and adequately judge the body condition of a goat based solely on the way they look.
If you here someone say “That animal has a little too much condition” and you are totally confused what they mean? They are pretty much saying that animal has too much fat. Sorry.
So What Is Body Condition Of A Goat
Body condition is simply the fat covering the body of an animal. The reason that this is so important is because it gives the farmer the ability to judge how much energy reserves the animal has. The good thing is that there is a scale that you can use to figure out what body condition your animal has, and what you can do about it.
Areas To Check
There are three areas that you want feel on your goat. It’s important to remember that you are not trying to feel the bone, instead you are gently pressing to feel the layer of fat between the bone and the skin. It can take some practice. When going through the scale below, remember that pressure is minimal. If you are using a lot of pressure, you will not feel the fat layer. You will only feel the bone. If you think your goat is a 5.0, you are still not cramming down on the bony areas you are feeling. It’s still small amounts of pressure because you are feeling for that fat pad.
- Spine- You should feel the bony ridge on either side of the spine (technically it’s all the spine)
- Ribs- You should feel the space in between the ribs
- Sternum- You should feel the plate between the front legs on the chest
The Body Condition Scale
The biggest thing to remember is that this scale is a management tool just like the FAMACHA score cards. It is not an end all be all. Nor can you simply say, she’s skinny and needs more groceries. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that, and I explain more below. The scale starts at 1.0 and goes to 5.0 and goes up in .5 increments. Where do you want your goat to live on the scale? We like our goats between 3.0 to 4.0. But depending on the circumstances we are okay with a 2.5.
1.0– Goat is going to be absolutely no fat on ANY of the three areas you check. You can see and feel the individual bones of the spine, spaces between ribs, and chest plate. These goats are extremely sick and unless turned around quickly, are probably going to die. Common causes is going to be poor husbandry, malnutrition, parasites and possibly diseases.
2.0-This goat has little to no fat along the spine. You can see ribs and there is some fat between the ribs but not a lot. Like a 1.0, there is a noticeable hollow between the hip bones and ribs.
3.0– Goats at a 3.0 should have a visible ridge on their spine but when it’s touched, there should be little give with the fat. You should be able to barely feel the ribs and should not be able to feel in between the ribs without some pressure. The chest plate should be padded.
4.0– This goat should be a chunk. You should not be able to see the top ridge of the spine and when you feel it, should not be able to feel without a fair amount of pressure. There should be no discernable difference in the ribs without considerable pressure. The fat on the chest plate should not be move.
5.0– This is a super chunk. This goat needs LESS groceries, despite what it tells you. There is absolutely no way to visibly decern the spine, ribs or chest plate. When you feel, you will not feel bones without A LOT of pressure.
What To Do With The Information From The Scale
I know, it’s a lot to unpack, but stick with me here. Above I said that the body condition score and the FAMACHA score are management tools, right? Ok, this is why it’s a management tool.
If you have a goat that is a 1.0-2.0, they are pretty thin and need to be evaluated for parasites, disease, pregnancy and husbandry. Remember, I screwed up husbandry, too, so don’t get upset here. But we need to figure out why. If the fecal is clear and you or your vet can’t find a reason for the goat to be skinny, give it some more food. Start small and go from there. If the fecal isn’t clear, start a worming protocol that you find effective. Don’t have a worming protocol? Talk to a vet. If you don’t have a Caprine vet, get on Facebook and go to Goat Emergency Team or Successful Goating With Rosie. I swear those two groups have saved my goats more often than I care to admit.
If you have a 3.0-4.0, keep doing what you’re doing but monitor closely for changes. Do they gain weight? Back off the feed. If they lose weight, get a fecal and up the feed.
5.0? Back off the groceries!
But if you have a goat that has clear fecals, good FAMACHA, no illness, no pregnancy, but you can’t get it to gain weight? You may just have a thin goat. Monitor this goat closely for rapid declines. Champ is a thin goat. We can get her to a 3.0 and she will slide back to a 2.0-2.5 for no reason. Her fecals are clear and she has a good FAMACHA. We just roll with it and keep an eye on her. Not that she would let us ignore her. EVER.
I hope this helps you figure out what to do in terms of management with your goats. Goats try to un-alive themselves constantly. So staying on top of their care is really important.
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