Body condition scoring (BCS) is a key measurement to track trends in a herd and evaluate individual animal health. It is especially important going into breeding season, as both over-conditioning and under-conditioning can impact a cow’s ability to get bred, maintain a pregnancy and deliver and nurse a calf. BCS at calving is one of the greatest factors influencing the rebreeding performance of a beef cow in the following breeding season. Thin cows at calving often are slow to return to normal estrus cycling. A few key times to evaluate body condition in your herd include:
90 Days Pre-calving: This is the last chance to get condition back on the cows before they calve.
Pre-breeding: Supplementing cows to improve body condition scores in the 3-4 weeks leading up to breeding can significantly increase the number of cycling cows. Very thin cows observed at this stage may be good candidates for culling or rotating into the next calving group (fall calving to spring calving or vice versa).
Pre-weaning: Determine if early weaning is needed and monitor cows to ensure thin cows are rebounding post-weaning.
Beef cattle are graded on a scale of 1-9, with 6 being ideal and some variation being normal at different stages of the reproductive and lactation cycle. A body condition score is determined by examining a few key areas: the spine, pins and hooks (bones of the pelvis), the tail head, ribs and shoulder. In general, if more than two ribs are easily visible from the last half of the rib cage, the cow will score lower than a 5. Also, if the outline of the vertebrae are visibly apparent, the cow will score 4 or lower. An ideal time to become more familiar with body condition scoring is during a herd check with your veterinarian.