Check beef cow body condition to improve reproductive performance

Beef cows with body condition scores below five have reduced reproductive performance. Producers should evaluate cows as part of a management system to achieve adequate pregnancy rates.

Beef cow-calf producers are reliant on high pregnancy rates to remain economically profitable. Many beef producers across the Midwest were challenged with low yields and marginal quality forages available to feed cows through the winter. Cold spring temperatures slowed grass growth for pasture feeding, compounding the problems of preparing cows for the calving and breeding seasons this year.

Pregnancy rates are highly dependent on the body condition of cows. Cows that do not maintain adequate body condition going into the calving and breeding seasons, will usually have reduced conception rates and consequently, higher culling rates. Cows should be routinely assigned a body condition score (BCS) so that cows do not become too fat or thin, resulting in health problems reduced conception and increased dystocia.

The National Research Council’s Nutrient Recommendations of Beef Cattle indicates that conception rates are nearly maximized at BCS of 5. Other research indicates, breeding performance is enhanced if cows are at BCS of 6 or greater. Conception rates have been shown to be improved from 0 to 13 percent by increasing BCS from 5 to 6. While the pregnancy rates may increase slightly by increasing BCS to 6, cows with BCS of 4 or less have exhibited conception rates dramatically lower. Some research results have demonstrated pregnancy percentages ranging from 12-50 percent.

Managing cows to start the calving season at a BCS of 6, allows some weight and condition loss after calving. Experts from Michigan State University Extension recommend maintaining a solid BCS of 5 through the end of breeding season to ensure acceptable breeding performance. Feed expenditures may not be justified to maintain a BCS of 6 through breeding; however, cows that are at a BCS of 4 or below, should be fed and managed to increase BCS. For more information regarding the effects of BCS on reproductive performance of beef cattle, contact me at 906-884-4386 or

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