Body Condition Scoring
Build profit by building body condition scoring.
Having the ability to accurately body condition score (BCS) cattle is one of the most valuable tools in a cattlemen’s toolbox. A small investment in time and a little practice can help avoid major profit robbing herd problems. Making adjustments to management to achieve appropriate BCS can improve reproductive efficiency, calf health, calf vigor, and animal performance.
This body condition video by Travis Meteer for the Wallace Center walks us through how to evaluate body condition and what it tells us about a producer’s grazing regime.
Using BCS as a visual indicator of herd health and nutrition just makes sense.
Body condition scoring can be done with only visual indicators. If cows are to be run through a working facility, palpation of key bone structures can also be incorporated into the score. Palpation can be helpful when cows still have their winter haircoat or are heavy bred.
The key areas for determining BCS are the brisket, backbone, ribs, pinbones, and the tailhead. The Angus Journal provides a visual overview of the scale which runs from 1 to 9, with 6 being ideal.
BCS impact on rebreeding
While it is important to monitor BCS at all times of the year, scoring cows at calving may be the most important. This is because BCS at calving is a large determinant of cow breed back. Cows in poor body condition score take longer to re-breed.
- BCS 3 cows have an 88.5-day post-partum interval
- BCS 4 cows have a 69.7-day post-partum interval
- BCS 5 cows have a 59.4-day post partum interval
- BCS 6 cows have a 51.7-day post partum interval
- BCS 7 cows have a 30.6-day post partum interval
¹ Adapted from Houghton et. al., Effect of Body Condition Score (BCS) at calving on post-partum interval (PPI),1990
Nutrition and diet on reproductive health
Another important piece to the puzzle is plane of nutrition. Cows losing weight do not typically breed back at acceptable rates; thus, it is important that cows be receiving a balanced, nutritious diet prior to and during breeding season.
Effect of Postpartum Body Condition Score change on Pregnancy Rate ¹
- BCS of Thin (<5) and increasing have a 100% pregnancy rate
- BCS of Thin (<5) and decreasing have a 69% pregnancy rate
- BCS of Fleshy (>5) and increasing have a 75% pregnancy rate
- BCS of Fleshy (>5) and decreasing have a 94% pregnancy rate
- BCS of Moderate (4.5 to 5.5) and maintaining have a 100% pregnancy rate
¹ Adapted from Houghton et. al., 1990
Other benefits of cows with good BCS
While reproductive efficiency is one of the biggest benefits to having cows in good BCS, there are other benefits.
Calving and colostrum:
- Good conditioned cows also have less problems calving and provide better colostrum to their newborn calves.
- Thin cows are weak and are more apt to give-up during calving. They have less energy reserve to tap into during the demands of parturition.
- Thin cows will pass on less immunoglobins in colostrum and thus, fail to provide the greatest immunity to newborns.
Colostrum is a calf’s first chance at a healthy life. Don’t allow thin cows to ruin calf health and performance while being harder to get bred.
Overview of body condition scoring
It is no secret that cows in good body condition will result in fewer headaches. Less calving problems, healthier calves, and quicker breeding cows are crucial to the success of a cow/calf operation. Train your eye to accurately BCS cows. Then, trust your eye to make adjustments in management and nutrition to better position your herd for success.
P. L. Houghton, R. P. Lemenager, L. A. Horstman, K. S. Hendrix, G. E. Moss, Effects of body composition, pre- and postpartum energy level and early weaning on reproductive performance of beef cows and preweaning calf gain, Journal of Animal Science, Volume 68, Issue 5, May 1990, Pages 1438–1446.