Green grass, sunshine and cattle on pasture are signs that summer is coming, which means breeding season is just around the corner for many commercial cow-calf operations.
There are various factors to consider to have a successful breeding season, and one of them is cow body condition. This article will discuss the definition of body condition, body condition scoring and ways to achieve the ideal body condition score for breeding season.
Body condition is the physical status of the body as a whole, or one of its parts. Body condition scoring is a useful management tool used to evaluate energy reserves in the form of fat and muscle and nutritional status in beef cows using a 9-point scale. A score of 1 is an extremely thin cow; a score of 9 is an extremely obese cow.
Body condition scoring allows a producer to visually assess the cow herd and assign a number based on the appearance of each cow. Because many producers don’t weigh their momma cows, this is a tool that can be used year-round to keep track of the health of the herd.
A good rule of thumb to follow is that 1 point in BCS is equal to 75 to 80 pounds of live weight. If a cow weighs 1,100 pounds at BCS 4, that same cow would be expected to weigh 1,175 pounds at BCS 5 and 1,250 pounds at BCS 6. It is important to remember that these weight changes do not include weight of the fetus or fetal membranes, which in total amounts to 125 to 155 pounds for a cow in late gestation.
As you start thinking about the breeding season, the main question is, what is the ideal BCS for a cow that is preparing to get bred? The short answer is optimum BCS of 5. Thin cows are considered to be 1 to 3 and borderline 4. Optimum is 5 to 7, and too heavy is 8 to 9. Both too thin and too heavy can cause problems during breeding season. The best times to conduct body condition scoring on your herd include at weaning, 90 days prior to calving and at breeding.
The most difficult time to increase body condition is from calving to breeding, so it is important to score during other time periods, as well. The best way to improve body condition is to manage nutrition and the energy levels in your cattle ration to obtain desired BCS. Make sure to test your feeds and work with a nutritionist for balancing rations. The easiest and most economical time to increase body condition is from weaning to calving, so keeping records on all cows that include BCS will also aid in improving body condition and having a successful breeding season.
Body condition scoring is an effective tool for breeding season and should be used year-round. The age of cows also has an impact on BCS and breeding success. There are many tools to help you determine BCS. Contact your local county Extension educator for assistance. For more information about the beef industry, visit the Division of Extension Wisconsin Beef Information Center.
Olson is the Extension agriculture agent in Vernon County, Wis. This column is provided by the University of Wisconsin-Extension’s Wisconsin Beef Information Center.