Scoring Cows Can Improve Profits

ANR-54
Agriculture and Natural Resources
Date: 
03/07/2017
Jeff Fisher, Assistant Professor, Extension Educator, Agriculture and Natural Resources, Pike County
David Dugan, Extension Educator, Agriculture and Natural Resources, Adams, Brown, and Highland Counties

Scoring cows on the basis of body condition can be an effective management tool for enhancing reproductive performance within the cow herd. The critical period during the reproductive calendar for body condition is at calving. Problems associated with body condition can surface in several ways: 

  • Prolonged post-partum anestrus 
  • Reduced conception rates requiring more services
  • Longer calving intervals 
  • Higher percentage of open cows 
  • Increased parasite and disease susceptibility
  • Lowered calf weaning weight from lowered milk production 

The most important time to evaluate body condition is at weaning. Management decisions involving cow nutrition at weaning are important to achieve the best cow body condition at calving and later post-calving reproductive success. Body condition scoring (BCS) aids in nutrition management and enhances reproductive performance of the cow herd.

Understanding the Body Condition Scoring (BCS) System

Body condition scores basically describe the degree of fatness of a cow. A numerical range of 1 to 9 identifies varying degrees of fatness, with 1 being very thin and 9 being excessively fat. To use the BCS system effectively, a producer must know the six critical areas for evaluating body condition, which is shown in Figure 1. These areas are a visual clue for a cow’s fat cover. A heavy brisket indicates fat storage. Fat cover over the back and ribs gives a smooth appearance as the bones become less noticeable. The hooks, pins and tail head will no longer be prominent as the area fills in with fat.

Figure 1: Six critical areas for evaluating body condition.


When scoring cows for body condition, be sure to account for pregnancy status, gut fill from rumen content, hair coat and age. An average score for body condition is 5, or moderate, where the cow has an adequate amount of muscle and fat. Typically, the ribs are evenly covered and not showing. Identify a BCS 5 or moderate through comparison with cows in your herd and the BCS group description chart at the end of this fact sheet. Once you have a mental picture of a 5, you can compare and determine the scores of the rest of your herd. 

Do not make the mistake of using live weight as the determining factor for body condition and fat reserves. Gut fill and pregnancy status prevent weight from being an accurate indicator of fatness. Animals can have different live weights but similar body condition scores. Likewise, animals of similar live weight may differ in body condition. Research shows that a one-point change in body condition translates to an (+/-) 80-pound change in body weight. Additionally, fetal growth in the pregnant female may add approximately 100 pounds. This difference in body weight can be as little as 10 pounds in the non-pregnant female and as much as 200 pounds in the pregnant female for each one-point change in condition score.

The Ideal Score

Grouping cows using a BCS range is a more practical approach for on-farm management than individually scoring each cow. Establish cow groups on the basis of thin, moderate and fat body condition: 

  • Thin: Cows scoring 4 or lower are considered thin and are more likely to experience pregnancy rates of 60 percent and lower. 
  • Moderate: The ideal range for BCS is 5 through 7. Cows in this range are moderate in body fatness and typically have pregnancy rates over 70 percent. 
  • Fat: BCS scores of 8 and 9 are relatively fat and have lower reproductive performance, which equates to higher cow maintenance costs. 

Combining first and second calf heifers with thin cows to form one group for winter feeding allows for better management of feed resources. Producers can also address the critical issue of developing young females who are entering the herd. This also increases the chance of mature cows in thin body condition to re-breed the following spring and maintain their position in the herd.

Grouping cows with the BCS system as a management tool will assist in better utilization of feed resources during the critical periods of the cow reproductive cycle. The key to successful on-farm management of the BCS system is identifying cow groups, not individual numerical scores.

Scoring for Profit

Because feed costs can account for 50 percent of the total cow/calf budget, producers can lower costs without sacrificing reproductive performance when sorting cows on the BCS system. Identifying BCS groups can allow more efficient and economical use of feedstuffs. Separating cows on the basis of thin, moderate and fat body condition will better match feedstuff quality with the nutritional requirements of each cow group. Use higher quality feedstuffs for thin cows and lower quality for fat cows to improve feed resource management and reproductive performance. The benefits associated with the BCS system can improve profits for beef producers.

 
Thin – Body Condition Score
1. Emaciated – Little muscle left. 2. Very Thin – Bones visible, not fat; considerable muscle loss.
3. Thin – Foreribs visible; some muscle loss. 4. Borderline – Forerib not visible; 12th and 13th ribs visible.

 

Moderate – Body Condition Score 
Ideal condition for reproductive health 
5. Moderate – Little muscle left. 6. Good – Smooth appearance; some fat on back and tail.
7. Very Good – Smooth appearance with fat over back and tail head.

 
Fat – Body Condition Score
8. Fat – Blocky appearance bone over back not visible. 9. Very Fat – Tail buried and in fat.

More information about scoring cows and other reproductive health information is available at the Ohio State University Extension Beef Team Site, available by searching at agnr.osu.edu.

This fact sheet is a revision of Scoring Cows Can Improve Profits, by David A. Mangione, Associate Professor Emeritus, Bulletin L-292, Ohio State University Extension, 2000.

Ohioline http://ohioline.osu.edu