Assess the condition of pigs

You need to be able to assess a pig’s condition to make sure it is healthy and performing at its best.

This is usually done by checking its body condition through visual and physical testing.

Sow condition scoring

The purpose of condition scoring is to help you decide on different feeding policies for individual sows, or groups of sows (this also applies to boars).

Body condition scoring lets you assess a sow's condition at different stages in its reproductive cycle and helps you find the right feeding levels in each stage.

The pig welfare code sets the legal minimum levels for body condition set by animal welfare legislation.

Manual condition scoring

The manual scoring technique is simple and can be quickly learned. However, it is a rough measure so use equipment such as an ultrasonic backfat scanner to help you determine the pig’s body condition. After a little practice, several people can independently condition-score a group of sows and get fair results.

To manually score, simply press the sow's pin bones while timing how long it takes to feel them. Two seconds equals a fat score of 2, 3 seconds equals a fat score of 3, and so on. Also note the amount of fat cover inside the hind legs and on the tail setting when you use this method.

A scale from 0 (emaciated) to 5 (grossly fat) is used in the scoring system which combines both visual appraisal and feel. Handling the sow is essential to get an accurate assessment of its condition because visual appraisal by itself is not good enough. The table below is a guide to scoring a pig’s body condition.

ScoreAppearancePin bones and tail settingLoinBackboneRibs
0EmaciatedPin bones very prominent. Deep cavity around tail settingVery narrow. Sharp edges on transverse spinal process. Flank very hollowVertebrae prominent and sharp throughout length of backbone.Individual ribs very prominent.
1PoorPin 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.
2ModeratePin bones covered.Edge of transverse spinal process covered and rounded.Vertebrae visible over shoulder. Some cover further back.Ribs covered but can be felt.
3GoodPin 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.
4FatPin 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.
5Grossly fatFurther deposition of fat impossible.Further deposition of fat impossible.Midline appears as slight hollow between rolls of fat.Thick fat cover.