Make body condition scoring routine

Nov 13, 2009
by WLJ
Make body condition scoring routine

Body condition scoring is a practice that should be carried out at the weaning of the calf crop along with pregnancy checking and cow culling. Body Condition Scores (BCS) are indicators of the cows’ nutritional condition.

Body condition scoring uses a numerical value to estimate energy on fat reserves. The values range from 1 to 9. Cows in the lower numbers have less energy stores and are considered skinny. Cows with BCS scores of 4, 5 or 6 are average, and the cows in 7, 8 and 9 range can be easily recognized as fat.

BCS at calving has an important impact on the future calf crop. Mature cows should be in a BCS of 5 while first calf replacement heifers should be in a BCS of 6.

Females in a BCS less than 5 for mature cows and 6 for heifers will experience reduced reproductive performance. For example, cows that are in the thin group will be longer returning to heat following calving com pared to those in the average BCS. (If cows are not cycling, they are not going to settle.) This delay in returning to heat delays rebreeding and the future calf crop will be born at a later date, and if weaned at the same time next year, will be lighter. Cows that are in the thin group should be separated and fed and managed to gain up to the average BCS.

Body condition scoring should be done at weaning, at two to three months before calving, at calving, and at other times throughout the year. These periodic checks allow the producer to make adjustments in nutrition and management practices to improve BCS before calving. By scoring the cows at weaning, they can be sorted into these groups for fall and winter feeding.

Why are the cows in a thin BCS? The answer is inadequate nutritional intake.

Aged cows (10 years plus) are likely to be in a thin BCS. This low score can be attributed to poor physical condition that includes arthritis, structural problems and loss of teeth. While working the cows, check their physical soundness. Unless these thin, old cows are separated from the other cows, they will not be able to secure their nutritional needs and continue to lose in physical condition. A high percentage of these cows will not live to see the green grass next spring. These cows should be candidates for culling.

Body condition of the cows directly affects the reproductive performance of the cow herd and the profitability of the cow herd. Grouping the cows into three BCS groups can be easily done and would fit most Tennessee beef cow herds. Observe your cows at weaning and determine their BCS because it will affect the herd’s profitability. — James B. Neel, University of Tennessee