Body Condition Score in Cattle Series | Part 3

Part 3: Body Condition Scoring: How its done  

Body condition scoring (BCS) of beef cattle is a simple process that can be performed by anyone who understands the characteristics of cattle in each score category. The key areas that should be evaluated when assigning a body condition score to a beef cow are the backbone, ribs, hips, pinbones, tailhead, and brisket. As you learn, it is helpful to palpate these areas on a few cows in order to sharpen your visual skills of assessing fat cover. Viewing examples of each body condition score can help form a comparison in your mind as you evaluate your cattle. Examples of various body condition scores in beef cows and characteristics of each score can be found at the following link:  

In general, the following are key characteristics of each body condition score (1-9) in beef cattle:  

Body Condition Score:                            Description of Cow Appearance: 
1  Bone structure of shoulder, ribs, back, hooks, and pins are sharp to the touch and easily visible. No evidence of fat deposits or muscling. 
2  Little evidence of fat deposits but some muscling in the hindquarters. The backbone is sharp to the touch and is easily seen with space between each vertebra. 
3  Fat begins to cover the loin, back and foreribs. The backbone is still highly visible. Vertebra can be identified individually by touch and may be visible. Space between vertebrae is less pronounced. 
4  Only the 12th and 13th ribs are noticeable to the eye, particularly in cattle with a big spring of rib and width between ribs. The transverse processes can be identified only by palpation (with slight pressure) and feel rounded rather than sharp. Full, but straight muscling in the hindquarters. 
5  The 12th and 13th ribs are not visible to the eye unless the animal has been shrunk. Individual vertebra not seen, and can only be felt with firm pressure. Areas on each side of the tail head are well filled but not mounded. 
6  Ribs are fully covered and are not noticeable to the eye. Hindquarters are plump and full. Noticeable sponginess over the foreribs and on each side of the tail head. Firm pressure is not required to feel the transverse processes. 
7  Ends of the spinous processes can only be felt with firm pressure. Spaces between processes can barely be distinguished. Abundant fat cover on either side of the tail head with evident patchiness. Fat in the brisket. 
8  Animal takes on a smooth and blocky appearance. Bone structure disappears from sight. Fat cover is thick and spongy and patchiness is likely. Brisket is full. 
9  Bone structure is not seen or easily felt. The tailhead is buried in fat. The animal’s mobility may be impaired by excessive fat. Square appearance. 


When you begin to body condition score cattle, it may be easiest to categorize individuals as either thin, good, or fat, without assigning individual scores. A thin cow looks sharp and angular, whereas a heavily conditioned cow appears more square and smooth. As your ability to notice smaller details of body condition improves, you should assign a 1-9 score to each cow. Your veterinarian can help you use this information to evaluate reproductive efficiency and calf growth performance for individual cows.  

Continue reading the Body Condition Score in Cattle Series | Part 4

Body Condition Score in Cattle Series | Part 4