Body Condition Scores are a great tool for the beef cow herd

Body Condition Score is a term used often in beef cattle discussions, however, some producers may not know what it means and how it can be used as a management tool for the herd.

For many years, astute cattle producers have been visually apprasing their livestock. Body Condition Score (BCS)  needs to be a visual appraisal tool that all beef cow-calf producers know how to use. Most producers do not weigh the cows on a regular basis, so being able to look at them and evaluate them is a must. The BCS 9-point scoring system is the tool for that job. There are many reasons to know how to conduct a BCS on your beef cows that will be discussed later in this article, as well as links to several great resources available to the beef cow producer.

The BCS is linked to the amount of fat cover a beef cow has as shown in Table 1. The visual assessment of a cow can be done anytime that the producer is with the herd. The amount of fat a cow has is directly related to her animal performance, specifically to her reproductive performance. Reproduction, is the most important economically important trait since an open female is a costly female. It can be a great tool for identifying nutritional deficiencies in the herd. A thinner cow may have a harder time breeding back, and may come up open, and need to be culled for that reason.

Research has indicated that beef cows are most efficient and fertile as a BCS of 5-6. One BCS point is equivalent to approximately 75-80 pounds of body weight. So a cow that is a BCS of 6 weighing 1,300 pounds, will weigh approximately 1,260 pounds at a BCS of 5.5. Post weaning is the most economical time to add weight to the cows; their nutrient requirements are lowest at this time, so if weight needs to be added, that would be the time to do it. Preferably this feed and extra weight gain would come from grazed feed, as mechanically harvested feed comes at a considerably higher cost. BCS scoring the cows just prior to, or directly after weaning is a good time to complete that task. Prior to the breeding season starting would be another beneficial time to score the herd.

 Table 1. Percent Body Fat Associated With Each Body Condition Score

BCS % Body Fat
1 3.77
2 7.54
3 11.30
4 15.07
5 18.89
6 22.61
7 26.38
8 30.15
9 33.91

Source: Nutrient Requirements of Beef Cattle, 7th Revised Edition, 2000. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.

 There are several key points to remember when scoring the beef cow herd:

  • Work to be consistent in the scoring, seek help if needed
  • Utilize the tools available to help with the scoring process
  • Score the cows several time throughout the production cycle
  • ID those cow families that fall short of meeting the goals of the operation

There are many places to get information on Body Condition Scoring, the important message is that producers that are not using this tool, begin to use it, and perfect the eye as time progresses. For those producers that have a smart phone or tablet, Rick Rasby, Beef Extension Specialist at the University of Nebraska Lincoln, has developed an App that can be used to help with scoring the herd. The App allows you to take a picture and score animals as well as record that information for later use. There is also a BCS bulletin that Rasby has developed entitled “Body Condition Scoring Beef Cows: A tool for managing the Nutrition Program for Beef Herds.”

The BCS system can be a powerful tool for the beef cow-calf producer. The BCS of the herd influences the productivity of that herd, thin cows will breed back at a slower rate than those cows with a higher BCS. A cow that has too much condition, a BCS of 8 or 9 , may have mobility challenges, and also may have problems re-breeding and calving. Animals on either extreme may not be economical. It’s important that a beef cow has a calf every 365 days, and in order to get that done, she must rebreed within 83 days (282 day gestation + 83 day post partum interval = 365 days) after calving. For more information, or for help with scoring your cow herd, view the links above, and contact me at: or one of the Michigan State University Extension beef educators in your area. 

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