Body Condition Score: A Free Beef Cattle Management Tool
In a world of increasing input costs and changing markets, cow calf producers need to fill their toolbox with as many tools as possible. One of the most economic tools available to producers is Body Condition Score (BCS). The benefits include; no equipment necessary, it can save feed resources and dollars, and it can increase returns to the cow heard enterprise.
So what is Body Condition Score? Body Condition Score is an assessment of the fat cover that the cow is carrying. Body condition score in beef cattle is assessed in six locations on the animal. The six locations are identified in Figure 1.
BCS uses a numerical score assigned to cattle based on the estimated amount of fat and not necessarily body weight. The numerical score uses a scale 1-9, with 1 being extremely thin and 9 being extremely obese. Initially, BCS can be assessed by ranking cattle as thin (BCS 1-3), moderate (BCS 4-6), or fat (BCS 7-9). After becoming consistent in sorting cattle within these three groups, one can start assigning individual scores of 1 thru 9 to cattle. To learn more information on measuring BCS visit https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/an347
When to Evaluate BCS
Cattle ranchers who utilize BCS as a management tool assess their cattle regularly especially when weighing cows may be impractical. Below are the most strategic times to measure BCS in cows in order to make management decisions.
90 Days Prior to Calving
Evaluating body condition scores 90 days prior to calving can be useful in preventing extended periods of anestrus. Economically, this is the last chance to get condition back on cows before the demands of calving and lactation begin. This would be the time to separate thin cows from moderate cows.
Cattle should be at a BCS of 6 at calving. BCS gains during this time are costly and difficult to achieve because the nutrient demand is highest at this time. If there are thin cattle at calving, producers may want to change the pre-calving feeding program. The change in BCS around calving is exceptionally important and has a significant impact on production. Cows that experience body weight loss after calving are in a negative energy balance, which depresses the hormones associated with reproductive performance.
Cattle should be at a BCS of 5 at breeding. Cattle should have enough body condition to allow for a reduction in body mass due to the weight being lost during the parturition process. Thins cows need to gain BCS to rebreed successfully and BCS gains during this period are costly and difficult to achieve.
60 Days Prior to Weaning
Evaluating body condition scores 60 days after weaning can give you an assessment on how well cattle are “bouncing back” after weaning. If cows are thin, the calves can be weaned successfully to decrease cow nutrient demand and dedicate nutrients to BCS recovery.
The ideal BCS at weaning is a score of 5. Evaluating body condition scores at weaning can be useful to determine which cows and/or heifers need the most gain prior to calving. At weaning cattle need to be evaluated, separated (if needed), and fed according to their BCS and nutritional needs. The time between weaning to calving is proven to be the easiest and most economical time to add condition to cattle because the calves are removed, and the cows will dry up. Failure to evaluate at this time and adjust the nutritional needs of the cow after weaning can have difficulty adding condition later in the production cycle.
It is important to note that rate of loss of BCS should be gradual and not extreme. Evaluators must also consider the cows age when assessing BCS and considering management decisions. Young cattle have growth requirements that must be met along with gestation and lactation. Old cows may have teeth issues that impair consumption. It is important to monitor cattle closely and adjust your feeding program to avoid high rates of BCS loss.
Why Utilize BCS
Poor body condition is associated with the following.
- decrease in income per cow
- increase in post-partum interval
- weak calves at birth
- low quality and quantity of colostrum
- decrease in milk production
- increase in dystocia
- decrease in weaning weights
There is a nearly $400 dollar difference in weaning weight dollars per cow or gross profit between BCS 3 and BCS 4 cows. The difference in dollars returned per cow between BCS 4 and 5 is nearly $50, which is still a considerable amount of potential revenue (Hersom, Thrift, Yelich). Estimations of revenue are sensitive to calf sale price, but it is undeniable that adequate cow BCS and thus adequate nutrition is imperative to profitability.
A BCS of 5 or higher at calving and through breeding is needed for good reproductive performance. Potential ways to improve BCS include: proper stocking rates, a good mineral supplementation program, and timely use of supplements. Feeding groups separately to calve in BCS 5 or above will maintain high reproductive performance while holding supplemental feed costs to a minimum. Conducting routine assessments of BCS will provide needed information to manage the cow herd for a high calf crop and profitability.
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