Setting a flock or herd up for success 

Genetic research continues to uncover new findings about the connection between nutrition and animal health. From gestation to birth to adulthood, studies show animals receiving proper nutrition reap long-term benefits that positively impact reproduction, growth, performance and overall health. Maintaining sheep and goats in the right body condition for their stage of production sets them up for success in many areas. 

Body Condition Scores

Producers can utilize a body condition scoring system to help them determine the nutritional status of their flock or herd. The body condition scoring system for sheep and goats operates on a 1 to 5 scale. Where the animal falls on the scale lets a producer know if the animal is too fat, too thin or in ideal condition. 

On the body condition scale of 1 to 5, a body condition score (BCS) of a 1 would be given to an animal that was extremely skinny, almost literally skin and bones. On the opposite end of the scale a BCS of a 5 would be given to an obese animal, one that is almost too fat to walk. 

The optimal BCS falls right in the middle of the scale. “Ideally the ewe is in the 2.5 to 3 range, because she is not unhealthy, but she is not over-conditioned, and she will still respond to flushing. That’s where we like to see them,” Ken Coffey, Ph.D., professor of animal science at the University of Arkansas, explained. The ideal BCS is the same for sheep and goats.

Determining Body Condition Scores

Most county extension offices can provide producers with specific handouts and information to teach the detailed nuances of evaluating animals’ body condition. One practical guideline producers can implement is to utilize different parts of the palm of their hand as a guide to body condition scoring their animals.

To get an idea of what an ideal BCS should feel like, a producer would turn his or her hand upside down. Then using the fingertips of their other hand press on the upper part of their palm where their fingers connect to their hand. Producers can feel their bones, but the bones feel smooth and have a proper layer of fat and muscle. This is an example of how a sheep or goat with a BCS of a 3 should feel.

Conversely, if the producer flips his or her hand right-side up and runs his or her fingers over the top of their hand, their bones feel sharp and there is little fat or muscle covering. This feeling is representative of a BCS 1. 

“The palm of your hand is your scale,” Coffey explained. “I rub my hand back and forth along the sheep’s ribs behind the shoulders and that way I can feel the cover on the animal’s ribs. Does it feel like the back of my hand? Then they are too thin. Does it feel like the upper palm of my hand? Then they are in good condition. If I can’t feel the ribs, then they are too fat.” 

Another practice to guide producers on the status of their animal’s body condition consists of the producer sliding his or her thumb across the animal’s backbone. Producers will want to think about whether the animal’s backbone feels sharp or smooth. The smoother it feels the more fat cover the animal possesses. 

Livestock extension specialists encourage producers to make sure there is plenty of quality forage available that their flocks or herds will eat. This will help keep animals in proper body condition and equip them to be healthy and productive for years to come.


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