Body condition scoring sows

Body condition affects the health, welfare, productivity and longevity of sows. This is how to conduct visual and manual body condition scoring (BCS) assessments.
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Why is body condition important?

You should assess the body condition of sows on a continuous basis to maximise lifetime productivity.

Maintaining optimum condition within the breeding herd throughout the sow’s lifetime, with minimal fluctuations, will help you:

  • support reproductive performance
  • maintain production efficiency
  • make strategic culling decisions
  • improve mortality rates

It is important to be able to accurately evaluate sow body condition and to ensure appropriate nutrition is provided to every sow for maintenance, growth, reproduction and lactation.

How to assess body condition of sows

Visual and manual checks of body condition are not purely an assessment of backfat. In modern, lean genotypes, body condition score is an indication of the animal’s overall muscularity and is a poor indicator of fatness.

Use the following information to make sure you are assessing sows accurately:

  • Score sows at key times throughout the reproductive cycle. This includes weaning and service, mid-way through gestation and pre-farrowing, and throughout lactation
  • Ensure feed levels are appropriate and adjust, if necessary
  • Assess sows by considering several locations, such as shoulders, ribs, backbone and hips
  • Score the sows by touch, using the palm of the hand; and by sight where this is not possible. Remember you cannot condition score with your eyes alone
  • Score the sows on a scale of 1 to 5; half scores may be used for mid-ranges

Body condition scores

A visual assessment is relatively subjective but these descriptors will help you be more objective.

Score

Description

1

Emaciated

Shoulders, individual ribs, hips and backbone are visually apparent

2

Thin

Shoulders, ribs, hips and backbone are quite easily felt when pressure is applied with the palm of the hand

3

Acceptable / optimal

Shoulders, ribs, hips and backbone can only be felt when pressure is applied

4

Fat

Shoulders, ribs, hips and backbone cannot be felt even when pressure is applied

5

Grossly fat

Fat deposits are clearly visible

Aim for 90% of your herd to be in optimum condition relative to its place in the production cycle.

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Outdoor breeding

How to manage body condition

Avoid variation and extremes. Sows should enter farrowing with a body condition score of 3–3.5 and complete a four-week lactation, scoring 3–2.5 as a minimum. 

Sows that have lost body condition during lactation should be placed on a feeding regime that will return them to body score condition 3 by week five of gestation. A nutritionist will be able to advise on the most appropriate ration.

Impact of poor scores

Very thin sows may not:

  • come into oestrus promptly
  • be able to maintain pregnancy or support adequate foetal development
  • be able to consume enough food for a good lactational yield

Excessively fat sows may:

  • have farrowing and leg problems
  • produce small litters
  • have low feed intakes during lactation and wean lighter litters

If there is a wide range of body conditions within the breeding herd or significant numbers of sows in the extreme categories, a whole-herd review of the nutrition, management and health programmes is required.

Key considerations

  • Routinely check your own assessment with your colleagues and with that of an experienced third party, e.g. your farm vet
  • Visual and physical condition scoring is the ideal method of assessing sow condition. It is also worth considering other methods, such as body condition score measuring tapes
  • Diets should be formulated to meet protein and energy requirements. These should consider requirements to support body lean gain in gilts and young sows, in order to maintain them in good body condition at all times
  • Speak to your nutritionist for advice on feed levels for each stage of production and condition score

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