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Body Condition Scores: Essential for Efficient Cow Herd Performance

October 5, 2015

Body Condition Scores: Essential for Efficient Cow Herd Performance

Bryan Kutz

56Body condition scoring (BCS) is the numerical scale that ranks cattle on a (1-9) scoring system relative to subcutaneous fat cover.  Body condition scoring allows you evaluate nutritional level in your cowherd so that you can coordinate feed resources with animals that need supplementation or restrict intake in those animals that need less feed. The most optimum score that cattle producers should target ranges from 5-7.

Assessing body condition scores is essential in maximizing cow herd efficiency.  Stage of gestation, stress at calving, ample lactation, reproductive performance and age of cow are key factors that can effect cow herd efficiency and ultimately affect profitable production.  Body condition scoring to ensure that fat reserves are favorable is an evaluation tool that is easy to learn and can be utilized by farmers and ranchers to assist in management decisions.57The processes of fetal development, delivering a calf, milk production and repair of the reproductive tract are all stresses that require large quantities of energy to enable cows to rebreed within 60-85 days.   Plus, the environmental stressors these cattle endure just further emphasizes the need for energy from excess fat reserves in the cow.58

It is much easier to increase condition in cows before rather than after they calve.  If possible, separate cows that score below a 4 and either make a management decision to cull or provide additional supplementation.  The benefit of ample body condition far outweighs the cost of added nutrition or the opportunity cost in lost productive days in the long run.  Cows need to be at a condition where extra energy reserves can be used to help overcome the stress at calving and aid in reproductive performance.  Feeding cows to gain condition after calving leads only to improve milk production and has little effect on increasing body condition.

Description of body condition scores:

Condition BCS Description
Thin 1 Severely emaciated. All ribs and bone structure easily visible and physically weak
2 Emaciated, similar to 1 above but not weakened. Little visible muscle tissue
3 Very thin, no fat on ribs or brisket, and some muscle still visible.  Backbone easily visible.
Borderline 4 Thin, with ribs easily visible but shoulders and hindquarters still showing fair muscling. Backbone visible
Optimum 5 Moderate to thin.  Last two or three ribs can be seen.  Little evidence of fate in brisket, over ribs or around tailhead
6 Good smooth appearance throughout.  Some fat deposition in brisket and over tailhead.  Ribs covered and back appears rounded.
7 Very good flesh, brisket full, tailhead shows pockets of fat, and back appears square due to fat.  Ribs very smooth.
Fat 8 Obese, back very square, brisket distended, heavy fat pockets around tailhead, and cow has square appearance due to excessive fat.  Neck thick and short.
9 Rarely seen.  Very obese.  Description of 8 taken to greater extremes.  Heavy deposition of udder fat.

The idea of Body Condition Scoring (BCS) is to obtain a simple and reliable measure of the level of fat reserves that will be helpful as the cow progresses through gestation, parturition and rebreeding.  When used correctly, this information can help producers make management decisions such as culling or decisions about different feed regimens and how to utilize available forage resources.  These decisions all play a big role in making your cow herd efficient and profitable.




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