This article adopts a five point BCS
system (1-5) with values subdivided into 0.5 scores. Note that some
other systems use a scale 1-9. It is therefore important to know
which system is being used .
Variations in cow body
condition directly impact upon the reproductive performance of the
herd, when failure to conceive is the most important factor in
reducing the overall sale price of the weaned calf crop. Research
indicates that monitoring the BCS in order to keep cows in adequate
condition throughout the production cycle can improve reproductive
performance and positively impact the economics of the
Achieving a BCS of 2.5 or
more before calving and throughout the production cycle is the key
to a profitable beef operation.
By sorting and feeding
groups based on BCS, the economics of your farm
Many farmers waste
potential profits during the late winter months by over-feeding
cows in adequate condition when only part of the herd needs extra
energy and supplementation. This situation would apply mostly to
autumn-calving herds which are bred indoors from November
During the grazing season
farmers need to pay attention to stocking rates and pasture quality
because overstocking and poor forage quality can lead to thin cows
when spring-calving herds are housed.
Body condition can be
measured in the field without gathering or handling
Achieving a BCS
of 2.5 or more before calving and throughout the production cycle
is the key to a profitable beef
Key targets indicating high
fertility performance in a beef herd with a nine week breeding
- Barren cow rate ≤ 5%
- Cows calved in 1st 3 wks of calving period
- Weaned calf percentage ≥ 94%
Few herds achieve these
targets. Nutrition and an easy calving bull are the two most
Body condition scoring (BCS) method
The BCS system is relatively
easy to learn and can be implemented in any farm
Body condition scoring (BCS)
is a useful management tool for distinguishing differences in
nutritional needs of beef cows in the herd. This system uses a
numeric score to estimate body energy reserves in the cow. Research
indicates that there is a strong link between the body condition of
a cow and her reproductive performance. The percentage of barren
cows, calving interval, and calf vigour at birth are all closely
related to the body condition of cows both at calving and during
the breeding season. All these factors play an important role in
the economics of your beef suckler herd. Monitoring body condition
using the BCS system is an important managerial tool for assessing
production efficiency and is practised by all farmers but action
may not always taken quickly enough.
Body condition scores are
excellent indicators of the nutritional status in beef cows. Ideal
liveweight varies from cow to cow depending upon breed and milk
yield whereas ideal body condition (BCS 2.5-3) is the same for all
Body condition scoring and
management responses link together three major factors:
Condition scoring is a
technique for assessing the condition of livestock at regular
intervals. The purpose of condition scoring is to achieve a balance
between economic feeding, good production and good welfare.
Condition scoring is particularly useful as an aid to dry cow and
pre-calving management with benefits during the subsequent breeding
season. The objective is to ensure that cows calve down safely
whether they are on a controlled diet indoors (spring-calving herd)
or outdoors at grass (autumn-calving herd). Subsequently, during
early lactation the cow may be under considerable nutritional
pressure and body condition is a vital indicator of excessive
A cow in 'thin' condition
(BCS 1-2) is angular and bony with minimal fat over the backbone,
ribs, hooks, and pins. There is no visible fat around the tail head
A cow in 'ideal' condition
(BCS 2.5-3.5) has a good overall appearance. A cow with a BCS of
2.5 has visible hips, although there is some fat over the hooks and
pins and the backbone is no longer visible.
Cows with BCS of 3 or 3.5
become fleshy and the ribs are no longer visible. There is also fat
around the tail head and in the brisket. An over-conditioned cow
(BCS 4-4.5) is smooth and boxy with bone structure hidden from
sight or touch. She may have large protruding fat deposits (pones)
around the tail head and on the pin bones. Be aware that gut fill
due to rumen contents or pregnancy can change the appearance of
moderately fleshy cows, especially over the ribs or in front of the
Visual indicators of each BCS
Body condition should be
evaluated and recorded three times a year:
By assigning BCS scores at
the time of weaning, the cows can be sorted for appropriate
feeding/grazing. Grouping cows by feed requirements and feeding
them accordingly can help each of them reach BCS 2.5 - 3 by
calving. Scoring cows 60-90 days before calving allows you to
evaluate your dry cow nutritional program while allowing enough
time prior to calving for "emergency feeding" if needed.
Cows that are thin (BCS
< 2) are not reproductively efficient and are more
susceptible to health problems. Cows at BCS 1 need immediate
veterinary attention/investigation. Cows that are over-conditioned
(BCS 4-4.5) are the most costly to maintain and have often been
barren for a season or failed to rear a calf.
Two-year-olds with BCS 4-4.5
may experience calving difficulties due to the excessive fat within
the pelvic canal.
Failure to conceive is the
most important factor contributing to the reduction of net calf
crop. Conception rates are dramatically compromised in cows that
are BCS 2 or less.
Research indicates that the
body condition of a cow influences days to first heat after calving
and calving interval. A beef cow must conceive within 82 days of
the birth of her last calf if she is to maintain a 12-month calving
cows in heat by 60 days post-calving depending upon BCS at
Percentage in heat by day 60
How to Body Condition Score
Scoring consistently requires
handling cattle in order to assess body reserves but an overall
visual inspection is also important. The scoring system is designed
to cover all cattle but some allowance should be made for different
The scoring method involves a
manual assessment of the thickness of fat cover and prominence of
bone at the tail head and loin area. You should stand directly
behind the cow to score both areas and always handle the animal
quietly and carefully using the same hand.
The tailhead is scored by
feeling for the amount of fat around the tail head and the
prominence of the pelvic bones.
The loin is scored by feeling
the horizontal and vertical projections of the vertebrae and the
amount of fat in-between. Assessment relies mainly on the tail head
but is refined by the loin score if both are very different. On a
scale of 1 - 5, a score of 1 is extremely thin and a score of 5 is
extremely fat. If possible assess the scores to the nearest half
Consistency in the technique
is the key to good condition scoring.
head - deep cavity with no fatty tissue under
Loin- spine prominent and
horizontal processes sharp.
Skin fairly supple but coat
condition often rough.
head - shallow cavity but pin bones prominent; some
fat under skin.
Loin - horizontal processes can be
identified individually with ends rounded. Skin supple.
Loin - end of horizontal process
can only be felt with pressure; only slight depression in
head - fat cover over whole area and skin smooth but
pelvis can be felt.
- completely filled and folds and patches of fat evident.
Loin - cannot feel processes and
will have completely rounded appearance.
5 Grossly fat
Tail head - buried in fatty
Pelvis - impalpable even with
firm pressure in loin.