Body Condition Score in Cattle Series | Part 4

Part 4: Body Condition Scoring: When to do it  

Once acquainted with the scoring system, and comfortable assigning scores to individuals in your herd, body condition scoring (BCS) can be performed continuously throughout the year to monitor for subtle changes in nutritional status of the herdBody condition can be assessed in the pasture, without gathering cattle into a working facility, but there are some key times when BCS is easily assessed as cows are worked through a chute. Keeping track of body condition scores in different production groups (i.e. first calf heifers, mature cows, pre-breeding heifers) allows you to assess their nutrient intake, and plan appropriately to ensure ideal BCS. The primary goal of assigning body condition scores throughout the year is to ensure cows are at the appropriate BCS at the time of calving. If cows are in poor body condition at the time of calving, they will likely struggle to remain productive while raising their calf, and fail to breed back in a timely fashion. Therefore, the feeding and nutritional management efforts of the producer throughout the year should focus on having cattle at an ideal body condition at the time of calving, and maintaining that body condition through rebreeding. Here are a couple of scenarios that illustrate the importance of monitoring body condition:  

Scenario #1: Fall calving cows
The weather in the southeast can turn hot and dry very quickly in late summer and early fall. Forages that were high in nutrient value earlier in the summer can lose nutrition quickly as they mature and dry out. If you begin calving in the fall, body condition should be monitored after calving in preparation for winter. Cows may need protein and energy supplementation (cottonseed hull or distiller’s grainbased rations) in addition to late summer or fall forage to maintain condition after calving and into the winter. The increased nutritional demands of lactation on fall calving cows that are grazing mature forage may be more than what the forage alone can provide, thus cows may lose condition early in lactation and the producer could be in for a long winter of nutritionally-related illness and sub-optimal conception rates. If cows calve in a poor BCS or if BCS falls below ideal after calving, it is more expensive to add condition to cows, especially in the winter, prior to breeding than to maintain cows at an ideal body condition through calving and into the breeding season. 

Scenario #2: Spring calving cows
Spring calving herds in the southeast have the benefit of early season grazing in the spring and summer months, so cows typically have adequate, quality forage available when lactation is at its peak post-calving. When spring born calves are weaned in the fall, pregnant cows should be maintained at an adequate body condition score through the winter. Assessing BCS when weaning calves and pregnancy testing cows in the fall can help you make decisions on which cows maintained appropriate body condition through the summer while also weaning a competitive calf within its cohort. Cows that are in poor body condition and are open are candidates for culling. Establishing a base BCS for cattle at weaning in the fall will help you maintain adequate body condition through the winter, so cows are at the appropriate BCS when they calve in the spring.  

In conclusion, BCS should be assessed about every 90 days in your herd, especially at: 

  • Calving
  • Pre-breeding  
  • Weaning 
  • 100 days prior to Calving