Body condition scoring is a tool that can play a significant role in livestock management. And the best part – it’s free and you can take it with you anywhere. Body condition score (BCS) is a visual and physical (palpation) assessment of the animal to evaluate nutritional status of the herd. This is a subjective tool, meaning your score may be different than someone else’s score. Become familiar with the scoring guidelines and make sure that the scoring is done consistently by the same person.
WHY USE BODY CONDITION SCORE?
Nutrition: It can be difficult to determine if your herd is receiving adequate nutrition from the pasture. By using BCS, beef cattle managers can better determine the nutritional status of the animal. This can aid in nutritional management decisions.
Reproduction: Research has shown that there is a correlation between body condition and cow reproductive performance. Income for a beef cattle operation heavily depends on the rebreeding and reproduction rate of the herd so body condition scoring your herd has the potential to impact productivity and profit potential.
HOW TO MEASURE BODY CONDITION SCORE?
Body condition scoring (BCS) for beef cattle is based on a numerical scale of 1 (thin) through 9 (obese). The scores represent body fat (stored energy). The higher the score, the higher percent body fat of the animal. This can be broken down into categories: thin (1-3), moderate (4-6), and fleshy (7-9). There are 6 locations on the animal to assess the condition: the brisket, over the ribs, back/spine, hooks, pins, and around the tailhead. Stand at the side of the animal and evaluate the amount of fat cover in these 6 points.
It can be helpful to first familiarize yourself with what a BCS 5 looks like to help establish a baseline to start at when evaluating cattle. From there, you can determine if the animal is below or above a 5 and then use the guidelines to determine the score. An easy rule of thumb is to look at the ribs:
- If more than the last rib is visible = Below BCS 5
- If only the last rib is visible = BCS 5
- If no ribs are visible = Above BCS 5
For more information on measuring body condition score visit, How to Measure Body Condition Score In Florida Beef Cattle.
WHEN TO MEASURE BODY CONDITION SCORE?
There are strategic times to evaluate BCS to help with your management decisions.
- 90 days prior to calving – this is a last chance effort to get condition on the animals before calving and lactation (feed your thin cows).
- At calving – Cows should be at least a BCS 5 and heifers a BCS 6. Increasing BCS during this time can be costly and challenging to achieve due to high nutrient demand.
- At breeding, cattle should be a BCS 5 to successfully breed. Increasing BCS during this time can be costly and challenging to achieve.
- 60 days prior to weaning – Wean calves from thin cows to lower cow nutrient demand and feed them.
- At weaning – Ideally, cattle will be at least a BCS 5. Separate and feed based on BCS. This is the most economical time to feed due to low nutrient demand.
I have BCS for my herd, now what?
The scores don’t help much unless you use the information to make management decisions. Ideally, cows will calve at a BCS 5 and heifers will calve at BCS 6. This helps her to have adequate energy reserves to maintain herself, support the calf on her side, and become pregnant. Cows in lower BCS have decreased pregnancy rates, wean fewer and lighter weight calves, and are less profitable. Cows in with a BCS 3 have different nutrient needs than cows with a BCS 6. Use BCS to split the herd based on nutrient needs and phase of production. It isn’t profitable to supplement cows that won’t respond, so separate the thin cows and manage them differently. This can be done through supplementation, grazing higher quality forages, and/or treating for parasites. For more information on the economic relevance of body condition score, visit Implications of Cow Body Condition Score on Productivity.