Beef Cattle Body Condition Scoring

  1. Fairfarmhand
    BCS is more than just an acronym for an important football game. For farmers, BCS stands for Body Condition Scoring. Using this tool to periodically evaluate your beef cows can tell you about the health of your herd. By checking out the body condition of your cows and adjusting the diets of your animals, you can make wise decisions about breeding.

    Why Judge Body Condition?

    Research has shown that cows who are in excellent body condition will breed on time, have healthier calves and more milk for their offspring. Cows that are too fat or too thin will not perform as well in your herd. They will end up costing you more money in the long run because excessively fat or thin cows won\'t calve on time, may have sickly, small offspring, or they may not even calve at all.

    Evaluating cows based upon body condition is a good tool for deciding which cows to keep and which ones to cull. Cows that can keep their bodies looking good on the forage that is available on your farm will be less expensive to keep. Cows that require supplemental grain to stay in good shape are less cost effective to have around.

    Beef vs. Dairy Cows

    Body condition is judged differently for beef cows and for dairy cows because of their unique body types. Beef cows are supposed to be fatter than dairy cows, and dairy cows can still be perfectly healthy while in thinner condition. Therefore it is unfair to judge them by the same scale. Don\'t make the mistake of judging your dairy cows by the beef scale or vice versa.

    Optimal BCS

    For beef animals, BCS is rated on a scale of 1 to 9. The fattest cows are at a 9 and the thinnest cows are at a 1. Your goal as a herdsman is to have the majority of your cows within the range of 5-7 when it is time to breed. This is optimal body condition. The cow in this condition should breed on time, have a healthy calf, produce plenty of excellent colostrum and be able to maintain a decent weight throughout the demands of nursing a calf. Studies have shown that cows that drop from a 5 to a 4 will have dramatically reduced pregnancy rates. It makes financial sense to feed your beef cattle so that their body conditions will stay within a healthy range. You can divide your beef herd into groups and feed them differently according to their needs.

    The Growth Curve

    After having a calf, the cow will gradually lose her condition until the calves are weaned. At that time, she will begin to put weight back on as her milk dries up and she replenishes the fat and muscling on her body. When she calves, if she is at a 6-7 on the scale, she will probably be able to stay at 5 or above when it is time to breed back, around 3 months post-calving.

    Thin Cows (BCS 1-4)

    Cows that are too thin may not cycle regularly. Their bodies may be weak and their muscles may be atrophied. It\'s all the cow can do to stay alive; should a pregnancy occur, it\'s likely that she will abort early for lack of a nutritional reserve to sustain her pregnancy. If by some chance she does maintain a pregnancy, her calf will be weak, stunted, and limited by the sparse, poor-quality colostrum that the cow will produce at calving. She won\'t produce very much creamy milk for her baby, and the calf\'s weight at weaning will reflect that.

    Fat Cows (BCS 8-9)

    Cows that are too fat will be more expensive to keep because they are eating so much. They may be less mobile because moving the bulk around takes so much energy. Too much fat may also impair the cow\'s reproductive cycle and keep it from cycling regularly or conceiving. The layers of fat can also increase the likelihood that the cow will have problems birthing her calf, meaning that the farmer may have to intervene.

    To learn more about the basics of body condition scoring you can find more information on the University of Nebraska\'s website. The Virginia Co-operative Extension also has some helpful information, as well as photos of cows in each stage of body condition.

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