Body Condition Scoring (BCS) is a way to visually judge a cow's condition without weighing or measuring. According to Ted Cunningham, Livestock Specialist, with the University of Missouri Extension Center, “BCS can be turned into too much of a science, when you’re basically looking at three things. Are the cattle too thin, too fat or about right?” The score ranges from 1 – 9, with 1 being extremely thin and 9 being obese.
Now is a good time to check and manage the cows because there’s time to improve before the spring calving. A cow in good condition (BCS 6) will produce more concentrated and abundant colostrum. She will also cycle and re-breed easier, affecting next year's calves. “A cow will lose one score at calving and it’s extremely hard for a lactating cow to gain,” said Tom Troxel, Professor and Associate Department head for Animal Science, University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension. They will also fluctuate during the year. A lactating cow will probably have a BCS of 5.
The BCS can be divided into thin, moderate and over conditioned. One to 3 is thin. At 1 a cow will be weak, have no muscle tissue or fat visible, and survival during stress is doubtful. At 2 and 3, the cow isn’t physically weak and some muscle tissue can be seen. The upper skeleton is prominent.
BCS 4 – 6 is considered moderate and is where cows perform best. The cow will have more muscle and the backbone will be less prominent. If ribs are showing at this stage, the BCS would be considered a 4. At 5 a fat deposit behind the shoulder is noticeable. At 6 the fat behind the shoulder is obvious, all the ribs are covered, and a little fat can be seen around the tail head. Cunningham said at 6 the cow “will have a smooth overall appearance.”
When cows move into the fat range of 7 – 9, the skeletal structures are difficult to see. Fat behind the shoulder and at tail head are obvious. At 8 fat is flattening the rump, filling the brisket and over the shoulder. Nine is obese and a flat appearance dominates. Cow that are over-conditioned will be more likely to have difficulty calving and produce less milk.
With the ample forage this year, and the cost of grain, if cows are not above a 4, “cull her out, if she’s not in good shape now, she won’t make it in a dry year,” said Cunningham. The exception might be the first calf heifers, that tend to be a little thinner. The calf can be pulled off and the younger stock separated and given extra feed or put on the better forage.
“Don’t forget the bulls," said Cunningham. They also need to be at a 6. Troxel also mentioned bulls and the possible need to supplement their diet. “Young bulls, especially, should be watched during breeding season as they can work off a lot of energy,” said Troxel. However, they shouldn’t be over conditioned. A bull's reproductive ability isn’t affected like a cows, although too much fat can affect their libido and make them lazy.


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