Body Condition Scoring: Four things to know about “FIVE”

Dec 13, 2013
by WLJ

During times of physiological stress, such as late gestation and peak lactation, maintaining the body condition of a cow is critical to ensure that weight and condition are not lost. When you’re out “checking the cows” it can be difficult to remember how evaluating and assigning body condition scores (BCS) to your cattle can be useful, and the last thing you want to be doing is standing in a pasture trying to remember important information about the benefits that come from utilizing the BCS system.

To simplify the process and organize key points, the acronym “FIVE” covers four basic ideas. Armed with this tool and the BCS descriptions (see Table 1), you can strive for optimum performance and body condition from your cow herd.

• F——Fall: The most opportunistic time to achieve the desired BCS is from when the cow is dry, until about the first month into her third trimester. For a spring calving herd, this is mostly during the fall season. During this time of the year, dry, pregnant cows have minimal nutritional requirements, making it easier to provide adequate nutrition while allowing supplementation to be economical.

This is because the high demands of peak lactation have yet to occur and nutrients are still being used to increase muscle mass and body condition. The further along into gestation, the harder it becomes to increase body condition of a cow due to the fetus developing 75 percent of its final weight during the third trimester. Soon, the majority of nutrients the cow takes in will be diverted to supply her calf with everything it needs to grow and establish immunity.

• I—Ideal Condition: Ideally, the BCS of a cow should be around 5. The beef cattle body condition scoring system (shown in the Table 2) ranges from 1 to 9, with 1 representing extremely emaciated and 9 being extremely obese. Maintaining cows at the appropriate body condition will improve production by increasing conception rates and tightening calving intervals.

Having an animal in ideal body condition leads to fewer days needed to return to estrus after calving.

The effects of body condition score at calving on breeding back are illustrated in Table 1.

• V—Value Added: Cows that achieve the ideal body condition add value to your herd through increased calf health, survival and overall performance. When cows are in the ideal body condition, they are able to provide adequate nutrients to meet the calf’s requirements. When compared to calves born from cows with less than ideal body condition, calves born from BCS 5 cows have shown increases in weaning weight, due to tightening the calving interval and increased uniformity. Pounds of calf weaned per cow exposed are valueadding benefits that come from achieving the ideal body condition within your cow herd.

• E——Efficient and Economical Management: Body condition scoring can be a great tool to accurately reflect the nutritional status of a cow, without the stress or inconvenience of having to weigh the cattle. Choosing to use the BCS system to separate a cow herd by body condition can allow producers to provide higher quality feed or forage to young and thin cows. This practice allows producers to be economical when developing a nutrition program. Separating cow herds based on BCS can also prove effective when striving to efficiently utilize feed and forage supply, which could be limited this time of year.

One thing producers can do to maintain the body condition of their cow herd is to provide a year ’round supplementation program. Quality programs that incorporate organic and inorganic trace minerals and vitamins, along with the correct levels of protein and energy, in highly palatable formulations, will result in consistent and continuous intake, which will improve forage utilization, and overall herd performance.

Body condition scoring should be used at various times during the year, such as pre-calving, post-calving, and during weaning, as a practical evaluation of your herd. It will allow you to adjust your feeding and supplementation program, as needed, to improve cow productivity and calf health, ultimately leading to increased profitability. Just remember, FIVE is not only the ideal BCS, but it represents important information regarding a sound practice for monitoring the effectiveness of a herd n utrition program. — Courtney Verzosa, Anipro/Xtraformance Feeds