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Focus on Body Condition from Now Until Spring Calving

October 8, 2012

Dr. Shane Gadberry, Associate Professor – Animal Science


Beef cows had a difficult time maintaining body condition across Arkansas this past summer as drought persisted.  September brought much needed rain and restored enough soil moisture in some areas that ranchers began re-establishing and fertilizing pastures or trying to control armyworms.


As days become shorter and nights cooler, summer grasses will produce little forage the remainder of the year.  Fall plantings of cool-season forages may provide some fall relief, but the amount of relief will be influenced by many management factors such as planting method, soil moisture, fertilization, and pest control.  With less daylight and a lot to get done this fall, don’t become so caught up in taking care of what didn’t get done yesterday that the condition of the cow herd becomes overlooked today.


Today is a good time to assess the body condition of the herd and make a plan to restore lost body condition before spring calving.  The following items should be considered when managing for body condition gain:


  • Group cows according to body condition.  Body condition scoring is categorical (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9) and as such, these scores can become herd subset management groups.  Cows that are in body condition score 3 and 4 should be sorted off and managed separately from cows that are in body condition 5, 6 and 7.  Cows as thin as body condition 2 should be managed separately from cows in body condition 3 and 4.
  • Determine how many days remain until calving.  If calving begins January 15 and today is October 7, 100 days are available to manage for body condition improvement.
  • Estimate how much weight thin cattle must gain to have moderate to good fleshiness by calving.  As a general rule, 1 body condition score gain is associated with 75-100 lb weight gain.  Some cows in a body condition group of 3’s and 4’s will need to gain as much as 200 pounds by calving.  A group that needs to gain 150 lbs on average in 100 days will have to gain 1.5 lb/day as a target rate of gain.
  • Do not confuse weight gain associated with fetal development with weight gain associated with body condition.  If weighing on-farm is an option, realize that the weight gain being measured during late gestation is in part due to fetal development and in part due to body condition change.  To gage body condition improvement, re-assess cattle at a point that reflects an expectation of 1 body condition score gain.  In the case of 2 body condition scores in 100 days, an improvement in body condition score can be evaluated after the first 50 days to verify body condition is improving.
  • Feeding cows for body condition gain focuses primarily on caloric intake.  The following table can be used as a guide for targeting greater energy intake for body condition gain.



Requirements for 1,100 lb mature cow in late-gestation gaining weight for improved body condition.

Energy and Intake Estimates based on OSU Cowculator spreadsheet program.
Weight gain





(% Diet, DM)

Minimal intake

(lb DM)


(% DM @ 1:6 ratio with TDN)





















*TDN: total digestible nutrients



  • Plan for what is available for the cattle to eat, how much is or should be available, the nutrient composition of what is or will be available, and how long each food source will last.  For example, winter annual pasture will be in excess of 20% protein and 70% TDN; therefore, as long as there is an abundance of winter annual pasture, cows should consume enough energy to gain weight.  Once cattle are switched to a hay based diet, it is unlikely the hay will be sufficient in quality to support body condition gain and supplementing the hay with grain or a byproduct feed will become necessary.
  • Given the poor spring and summer growing conditions, hay should be analyzed for nutrient composition to determine the ration needed for targeted body condition gain.  Extension Winter Feed Meetings have revealed that hay quality on some farms is lower this year compared to previous years.
  • Do not be concerned about calving difficulty when feeding for body condition improvement.  Cows on a higher plane of nutrition with a targeted ideal body condition in mind are no more likely to have calving difficulty than cows maintained on an even plane of nutrition.  Under-nourished cows pose a greater threat to herd productivity due to calving difficulty and reduced breed back than cows managed on a higher plane of nutrition.


For assistance with balancing rations that account for targeted body condition score gain, contact your local county Extension agent and(or) download the Oklahoma State University Cowculator spreadsheet program from the internet.

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