Body Condition Score Series | Part 2

Part 2 : Body Condition Scoring in Beef Cattle: The Basics

Body condition scores (BCS) are a numerical ranking of the condition (fat cover) of individual cattle. Body condition scoring of beef cattle involves a subjective, evaluation of the cow’s overall condition judged by visual evaluation and/or manual palpation of fatness relative to frame size. Beef cattle are scored on a body condition scale of 1-9, with a 1 being extremely thin, and a 9 being extremely obese. The ideal BCS for an individual cow may depend on her age, lactation status, and pregnancy status. Mature cows (cows 3 years of age and older) are considered in ideal body condition at a score of 5/9. A BCS of 5/9 should be the target for the mature cow herd year-round. Heifers should calve at a BCS of 6/9. First-calf heifers have not yet reached their mature body weight if they calve at 2 years of age, and are still growing as they calve and begin lactating. First calf heifers are more likely than mature cows to fail to rebreed due to inadequate body condition, so starting them at a BCS of 6/9 helps ensure re-breeding occurs on schedule. In summary, body condition scoring offers producers a simple and effective method of monitoring nutrient intake in the cow herd year-round.

A common misconception regarding body condition is that heavier cows have higher body condition scores. This is not always true, as larger frame size cows can have less “condition” or fat and thus be a lower BCS than a smaller frame size cow who weighs the same. Because of this, body condition scores are a more reliable measure of nutritional intake in beef cattle than body weight. It is important to remember that body condition scores are a subjective measurement of flesh and fat deposition, not gut fill, hair coat, or frame size. Some breed influences exist when assigning body conditions scores, with Bos indicus influenced (Brahman cross) cattle carrying less fat superficially under the skin, and more internal fat, therefore may score differently than English or Continental breed influenced cattle.