Thin Goats, Fat Goats & Just Right Goats
Maxine Kinne

Your pygmy goat has a weight problem when it steps on the scale and the dial reads "to be continued..." Fatness and thinness both cause a variety of problems, and many people have trouble judging what kind of shape their goats are in.

Obvious signs of overweight include lethargy, panting and dogsitting. Chubby animals are lazy and don't burn enough energy to lose weight unless they are forced to exercise. They hang out in their regular lounging areas and often sit on their haunches like a dog, particularly during gestation, to shift big gobs of internal fat away from the diaphragm and lungs so they can breathe more easily. Fat goats wheeze and pant when they are exercised, especially on warm days, because the lungs are somewhat compressed, the heart cannot function as well and subcutaneous fat inhibits body heat regulation. Goat aerobics consist mainly of walking, and a reducing diet is helpful.

Thinness is easily seen and felt and is correctable if it is due to simple poor nutrition. A variety of wasting and other diseases, parasites and tooth problems need to be ruled out if the goat fails to gain when its diet is improved. One or more thin goats in an otherwise normal herd should have problem(s) diagnosed and treated.

It's not easy to regulate the weight of individuals when the herd is kept in confinement and and gets their grub via curb service. That's not even close to the way nature intended them to live. It takes a skillful herdsman to manage the herd appropriately to avoid condition extremes.

Scoring Systems

Body condition scoring systems exist for livestock species worldwide, and their similarity is truly remarkable. There are 4-, 5- and 9-point systems, and scoring is always done from emaciation as a low score to obesity with a high score. The National Pygmy Goat Association has a Body Condition Scoring System based on the 5-point method.

Muscle and fat combine to make up condition. Muscle is gained and lost up to the middle score of 3. Scores over the 3 reflect fat gain and loss. On any scoring system, a point just over the middle number is considered ideal. On a 5-point system ideal condition is 3.5, the condition most desirable at drying off, at breeding and at kidding. A score change of one point on a 5-point system indicates approximately 12% of body weight. For example, if a doe's ideal weight at a score of 3.5 was 70 pounds, a 12% increase to a score of 4.5 would be a total gain of 8.4 pounds. Not very much, is it?

How to Score

The body condition of goats is best judged on the loin, the area of the back between the ribs and the hips. It's a flat, easily accessible area. (How nice of them to make it easy.) You should be able to feel the tips of the bones on top (the spinous processes) without digging around for them. If tissue bulges over the height of the spine on both sides, your goat is real fat. The edges of the long bones that stick out to each side of the loin ar called the transverse processes. They should be covered with enough meat and subcutaneous fat that you are just barely able to count individual bones. If you cheat and dig in looking for them, you're only fooling yourself. Bones shouldn't have to be mined.

A 1-score thin goat has very prominent bones and looks like a walking skeleton. Bones are less prominent on a score 2, but the goat is still too thin. On a score 3, the underlying tissues slant in an approximately straight line from the top of the spine to the outside edges of the loin. The loin edges are padded somewhat, but the bones can all be felt individually. On a 4-scoring loin, the edges of the bones are indistinct, quite well-padded and pretty hard to count individually. Subcutaneous fat is level with the top of the spine. Scoring a 5, the loin bones cannot be felt and the spine lies in the bottom of a groove of subcutaneous fat.

Easy to Learn

At a recent show, an exhibitor asked me to demonstrate and explain scoring using her goats. With one touch of each goat's back, I gave her exact scores and encouraged her to give it a try. As she touched two goats for comparison she looked surprised and exclaimed, "I can feel it!" With one quick lesson and a prototype illustration of the system, she can score all her goats with accuracy from now on. And you can, too.

Related Reading
Body Condition Scoring System for Pygmy Goats
How to Body Condition Score - U. of Nebraska
Body Condition Scoring - Oregon State U.
Condition Scoring of Ewes (great images!) - Iowa State U.


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