The Ins & Outs of Body Condition
Maxine Kinne

Besides making them miserable, too much body fat creates very serious problems for Pygmy goats. Fat inhibits reproductive and kidding abilities and reduces milk production. It puts excessive strain on the shoulders and leg joints. And it can inhibit the body's temperature regulation. They can die from complications of being too fat, just like people. Much of this suffering and early loss of life can be eliminated if goats are maintained in the appropriate body condition for their stage of life and production status.


Why Goats Get Fat

Inexperienced owners don't understand nutrition or how to evaluate body condition.
Most owners feed the herd collectively, not individually, so a few goats get most of the food.
Pygmies aren't expected to work for a living, besides producing an occasional litter of kids. When they do have kids, they don't usually feed them for very long, as show goat owners want to dry off does as early as possible to keep them in "show" condition. (I've known breeders who do not let kids nurse at all because their does would lose condition and be unfit for the show ring.) The dairy goat is an excellent example of a good producer, with a lactation that often lasts 10 months.
Most judges traditionally favor fat Pygmy goats. They don't understand the difference between show condition / blending and structural soundness. The two terms are not synonymous with fat. Show condition should reflect good general health, i.e., skin, haircoat and appropriate body condition. Blending pertains to skeletal conformation and the pleasing way each part blends seamlessly into the next to create a harmonious whole. When I attended shows, it was very unusual to see appropriately conditioned animals place well, and I hope this is improving.
Some goats have been bred, purposely or not, to be "easy keepers," and this appears to be related to general body type differences. There are two very different body types. One is called the older style or "L" goat (long-bodied and leggy). The other is the easy-keeping newer style, a show type nicknamed the Dumptruck. These types differ in activity level and probably in metabolic rates, which permits the L-goat to remain fit and active and the Dumptruck to gain excessive weight and be somewhat lethargic by comparison. For a more detailed description of these two body types and how they affect the goat, see Old vs New: A Comparison of Styles


Old Style L-goat Type Dumptruck Type Easy Keeper




What is Body Condition?

Body condition is a combination of muscle and fat. Muscles become toned and larger with exercise, but there is a point where additional muscle size cannot increase by much. Fat is needed as an energy reserve to get animals through stressful times, either during health problems or dietary inadequacies. Goats need a certain amount of internal fat to function well. Animals in appropriate (medium) body condition have adequate energy/fat reserves to fulfill their genetic potential without the excess fat which seriously impairs performance.

Adult ruminant evolution involved gaining and losing weight by seasons of the year (environmental stressors). In nature, young are born in the spring, and the available nutrition - first is mother's milk, then its own food consumption - helps it grow to to breeding age. After being bred in the fall/winter - a tim of poor forage - the young doe may or may not manage some growth as her fetuses grow. She gives birth in spring when growing plants provide abundant nutrition for her and her kids. Through summer and fall she continues to grow and stores internal fat reserves that provide energy through the winter. This cycle repeats every year. She gains weight in the summer, loses it in winter, gives birth and feeds kids, then starts gaining weight (body condition) in readiness for the next pregnancy and winter. They are better conditioned going into winter, which helps sustain them during the winter when forages is scarce, and they are less conditioned by the time they deliver kids. By birthing time, a doe's abdominal fat should be at a good level for easy kidding.

In the real world of pets and show goats, they are fenced and have shelter and regular meals every day of the year. The manger is stuffed with good hay, pans of grain are delivered once or twice a day, and a smorgasbord of feed supplements can be offered free choice. They don't have to work for a living - they have their very own fast-food restaurant within easy reach and don't have far to go to eat their fill.


Where's the Fat?

There is not very much fat in goat muscle. Fat is deposited in the greatest amounts around the kidneys. The kidneys are under the loin (the lumbar vertebrae of the back between the ribs and the hips). Fat is also stored in significant amounts in the pelvic area. To a lesser degree, fat is also stored in the omentum and mesentery, respective membranes which line the abdomen and attach organs to the intestines and body wall.

Unlike internal fat, subcutaneous fat accumulates in small amounts but is proportionate to internal fat. For this reason, what you feel under the skin on the outside is a dramatic reflection of internal fat reserves. (This is where the term "blending" comes in in the shoe ring.) In addition to the layer of subcutaneous fat,  the skin on a fat animal feels thicker. "Pinching an inch" over the ribs is a very poor gauge of body condition. Anyone who says that's how they judge condition is demonstrating his/her ignorance. Without the hide, even extremely thin goats have some subcutaneous fat, but the skin is thinner. It is easy to learn how to feel the amount of fat cover under the skin and over certain bony areas to be able to know how much fat is on the inside.

These animals were scored prior to slaughter to show the inside story at the June, 1994, NPGA Board meeting. Only 1 or 2 of the Directors had seen the inside of a goat, and these images convinced them of the need for a scoring system. Unfortunately, the Judges Training Committee chair in that time period neglected to include it in the Judges Training Manual as the directors and the Health, Education & Research Committe planned. 

The images of the Pygmy goat carcasses below were condition scored by two individuals well versed in practice immediately before slaughter, and the condition scores were debated and agreed upon before slaughter. These photographs were taken after skinning to illustrate how the live condition score correlates with internal fat.


Condition Score 2
3-year-old buck
Too little kidney fat




Condition Score 2.5
10-month-old wether
Too little kidney fat

Condition Score 3
9-year-old doe
Average kidney fat
This is a normal amount of fat

Condition Score 3
10-month-old doe kid
Average kidney fat
This is a normal amount of fat


Condition Score 4.5
7-year-old doe
Excessive kidney fat


When this doe's abdomen was opened to expose the viscera, the
kidney and its surrounding fat (on your left) broke loose because
of its excessive weight.


Condition Score 4.5
7-year-old doe
Excessive accumulation of fat around the heart

In addition to noticing the increasing amounts of fat, look at the inside of the body wall where the cavity is being held open to see increasing amounts of fat on the inside of the body wall through the progression of images.


Thin or fat, all goats have a layer of subcutaneous fat on the back and chest. Beef cattle standards have a difference of one-half inch difference of back fat between an emaciation and obesity. According to their standards, 2/10" is an ideal covering.

What's Wrong with Being Overweight?

Fat is a very  inefficient tissue and difficult for the blood system to maintain. Internal organs surrounded and/or infiltrated with fat must work harder and are less efficient. Fat goat problems include:  reduced or complete infertility, dystocia, metabolic disorders, reduced milk production, urinary disease, impaired mobility and orthopedic problems.

. . . Fat in Bucks & Wethers

Excess fat unecessarily handicaps the buck's reproductive ability. He has trouble following and mounting estrus does, and his libido is low. Fat deposits in the scrotum interfere with the testicles' normal thermoregulation and has been proven to responsible for a variety of defects in spermatozoa. It has been shown in bulls that scrotal fat cannot be changed - once he has it, he's stuck with it. The buck usually loses condition during breeding season due to increased activity, lack of appetite and colder weather drawing on his reserves. It can be difficult to maintain the buck's weight when he ignores food.

Bucks and wethers are prone to urinary blockage from the bad nutrition made them too heavy.

. . . Infertility

Excess abdominal fat reduces reproductive rates in the doe and may even prevent conception. Fat does can't efficiently regulate body temperature. Heat stress on embryos may render some or all of them nonviable. Unproductive does gain extra weight that inhibits reproduction. For best reproductive performance, it is a good idea to breed a doe before she is completely mature, then let her nurse kids for several months.

Waiting to do the first breeding at maturity can allow does to get too fat, because they stores nutrients as fat reserves when they are no longer needed for growth or production. Holding does open for long periods between pregnancies also allows them gain excess weight. Do not underfeed in late pregnancy to remove excess weight from a doe - this may result in smaller and weaker kids that don't grow as well. (See Feeding Pygmy Goats During Pregnancy)

. . . Dystocia

Dystocia in fat does often results in weak or dead kids. Fat does labor longer, with slow progress and weak contractions, because excess fat slows the travel of birth hormones. Cervical dilation may be impaired. Pelvic fat reduces the size of the birth canal, making natural vaginal birth and/or assistance difficult or impossible. In many cases, surgery the only option for extracting kids whether they are alive or not.

Overfeeding during pregnancy results in larger fetuses that are unable to negotiate a fat-constricted birth canal. Difficult births and traumatic deliveries may result in temporary or permanent sterility. It is important for the doe to have adequate fat reserves to draw on in late pregnancy when fetal growth and size limit her feed intake and energy needs. Too much or too few fat reserves cause Ketosis by interfering with metabolic pathways before or after kidding. Fat does produce less milk and have a poorer persistence of lactation because they've accumulated too many space-occupying fat cells in the udder.

A difficult birth often leaves the new mother unable or unwilling to feed her kids.

. . . Impaired Mobility and Orthopedic Problems

Obesity reduces mobility. The burden of extra weight has a great impact on the joints and can cause orthopedic problems in young animals and complicate arthritis in older ones. Fat animals have difficulty breathing when they are active, especially during pregnancy, so they choose inactivity. They have too much fat around the heart and lungs. The doe who pants while sitting on her rear end like a dog 2-3 months into gestation is seriously fat and sits like that to be able to breathe.



Related Reading
The Ins and Outs of Body Condition

Thin Goats, Fat Goats & Just Right Goats

Of Mangers and Feed Pans

Feeding During Pregnancy

One + One Shouldn't = One
Maximize Litter Size

Solving the Mysteries of Obstetrics


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