Sow condition scoring

Body condition scoring has been used mostly with cattle and sheep, but the technique can be adapted for use with sows. The purpose of condition scoring is to help determine feeding policy for individual sows or groups of sows (also applies to boars).

Body condition scoring enables assessment of each sow's condition at various stages in the reproductive cycle. It provides a guide to feeding levels for individual sows or groups of sows. Minimum and guidelines to levels of body condition of all pigs are required for pig welfare (under the Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals - Pigs).

Manual scoring

This information is a rough guide. An ultrasonic backfat measurer can also assist in determining pig body condition.

The manual scoring technique is simple and can be quickly learned. After a little practice, several people can independently condition-score a group of sows and achieve a close measure of agreement.

Simply press the sow's pin bones while timing how long it takes to feel them. Two seconds equals a fat score of 2, three seconds a fat score of 3, etc. When using this method it is also advisable to note the amount of fat cover inside the hind legs and on the tail setting.

Image shows the various locations on the sow's body where condition is assessed.

Figure 1. Condition scoring locations

Scoring guide

A scale from 0 (emaciated) to 5 (grossly fat) is used in the scoring system which combines both visual appraisal and feel. Visual appraisal alone is not good enough; handling the sow is essential to get an accurate assessment of its condition.

Figure 1 shows the various locations on the sow's body where condition is assessed. The technique is summarised in Table 1.

In practice very few extreme (0 or 5) scores are found in well-managed pig herds while scores of 1 or 4 will be rarely seen. The majority of sows should fall into the middle scoring range (2 or 3). To cover this middle range adequately, half scores may be used (1.5 to 3.5).

Table 1. Condition scoring guide
ScoreAppearance Pin bones and tail settingLoinBackboneRibs
0 Emaciated Pin bones very prominent. Deep cavity around tail setting. Very narrow. Sharp edges on transverse spinal process. Flank very hollow. Vertebrae prominent and sharp throughout length of backbone. Individual ribs very prominent.
1 Poor Pin bones obvious but some slight cover. Cover around tail setting. Loin narrow. Only slight cover to edge of transverse spinal process. Flank rather hollow. Vertebrae prominent. Rib cage is apparent but less prominent than above.
2 Moderate Pin bones covered. Edge of transverse spinal process covered and rounded. Vertebrae visible over shoulder. Some cover further back. Ribs covered but can be felt.
3 Good Pin bones only felt with firm pressure. No cavity around tail. Edge of transverse spinal process only felt with firm pressure. Flank full. Vertebrae only felt with firm pressure Rib cage not visible. Very difficult to feel any ribs.
4 Fat Pin bone impossible to feel. Root of tail set deep in surrounding fat. Impossible to feel bones. Flank full and rounded. Impossible to feel vertebrae. Ribs impossible to feel.
5 Grossly fat Further deposition of fat impossible. Further deposition of fat impossible. Midline appears as slight hollow between rolls of fat. Thick fat cover.

If satisfactory performance is obtained when brood sows are in condition 2 or 2.5 at service and 3 at farrowing, then they should be fed to maintain these standards.

Further information

Model Code for the Welfare of Animals: Pigs - CSIRO