Body Condition Scoring of Llamas and Alpacas

Body condition scoring (BCS) using a 5-point scoring system is an easy and effective way to determining an animal’s fat stores and long-term energy balance.
Body Condition Scoring of Llamas and Alpacas - Articles

Updated: August 11, 2017

Body Condition Scoring of Llamas and Alpacas

Body Condition Scoring Methodology

Body condition scoring should be done with a combination of observation and palpation of the bony structures. Key areas to assess are the loin area just behind the ribs and in front of the pelvis. Within this area you want to evaluate fat presence between the boney projections from the vertebrae extending upward (dorsal spinous process) and laterally (transverse process or "short ribs") from the spinal column (see pictures in figure). In this same area you want to determine how much of a shelf is formed by the transverse processes. This area behind the ribs and below the spine is termed the paralumbar fossa. In thin animals the body wall in this area will be sucked in with the short ribs forming an obvious shelf. In fatter animals, the body wall will project out and the short ribs will be hard to identify. Additionally, one should visualize the degree of fatness in the chest and inguinal areas.

Time points for assessing BCS

Important times to assess body condition score would be during early to mid pregnancy; early to mid lactation and periodically to other animals of the herd to assess energy status.

Interpreting BCSs

Body condition scores 2.0 and below or 4.0 and above are considered abnormal and represent extremely thin or fat animals, respectively.

Physiologic State: GrowthPhysiologic State: Maintenance¹Physiologic State: Late Pregnancy²Physiologic State: Lactation
¹Includes early pregnancy up to 8 months. ²Includes pregnant animals from 8 months to full term.
Condition goals2.5-3.52.5-3.53.0-3.52.5-3.0
Expected condition score changeShould not gain or lose more than 0.25 condition score.No change is optimal; should stay within +/- 0.25 condition scores. Pregnant animals should not lose condition.Should not lose any weight or gain more than 0.25 condition scores.Should not lose more than 0.75 to 1.0 condition scores, but some weight loss is typical.
What to do
  • Gaining BCS: -Unbalanced energy and protein in diet. Increase forage feeding or reduce grain supplement.
  • Losing BCS: - Increase forage quality and grain feeding.
Increase/decrease grain feeding and/or forage quality until maintaining optimum BCS.Very important to be close to ideal due to impending lactation.
  • Gaining BCS: -Increase forage in the diet and decrease grain
  • Losing BCS: - Increase the forage quality or add grain supplement.
Almost impossible to gain BCS during this period. If losing BCS, increase forage quality and consider increasing grain feeding.

Body Condition Scoring Sheet for Camelids

Adapted from Edmonson et al, JDS 1989;72:68 and Russel, A. Body condition scoring sheep, Sheep and Goat Practice 1991.

Instructors

Ruminant nutrition Dairy herd health Metabolic disease Reproduction Nutrition reproduction interactions Small ruminants Llamas and Alpacas

More by Robert J. Van Saun, DVM, MS, PhD