Farm Progress

Cow body condition score relates to rebreeding and quality of colostrum.

December 5, 2016

3 Min Read

Research has shown that a cow's body condition score is related to the postpartum interval, rebreeding performance and the quality of colostrum the cow produces for her newborn calf. That means cattle producers should make a point to measure a cow's condition.

"One of the best times to evaluate cow body condition is at weaning, which is taking place presently in spring-calving cows," according to Patrick Davis, livestock specialist with the University of Missouri Extension.

The first step is to learn how to identify a cow body condition score (BCS). (See "What is body condition scoring in beef cows?" from Dec. 5 on the Missouri Ruralist website.)


Tips for measuring
The beef cow body condition scoring system is a 1-to-9 system, with 1 being extremely thin or emaciated, and 9 being extremely fat or obese, Davis explains. "The management range of cow body condition score typically discussed is body condition scores of 4 to 6."

For a condition score of 4, cows have the outline of the spine being slightly visible, the outline of three to five ribs visible, and some fat over ribs and hips.

At a condition score of 5, cows have a good overall appearance where the spine outline is not visible, one to two rib outlines are visible, and there is the beginning of fat over the hips, but they are still visible.

For a condition score of 6, cows have ribs and spine not visible, pressure is needed to feel bone structures, and fat accumulation is beginning in the brisket and flanks.

"Cow body condition score is appraised visually and by palpating fat indicators of the cows," Davis says. This can be done easily when cows go through the chute for other services.

When to measure
The times to collect cow BCS data is at weaning and calving. At weaning, cow BCS should be 4 or greater because if it gets lower, it will take a lot of nutrition to get that cow back to correct condition at calving.

Assess cow body condition at weaning

"If cows are at a body condition score of 4 and the calf is big enough to wean, then go ahead and wean the calf, because feeding cow and calf separately is better than trying to put a condition on the cow with a suckling calf," Davis says

The best time to increase condition on a cow is while she is dry, because of her low nutrient requirements. It is also the best time to identify cow BCS and determine a nutritional management strategy to get that cow back to the optimum BCS of 6 before the next calving season.

"The reason for a body condition score of 6 before the next calving season is that it will allow the cow to lose one body condition score from calving to breeding," Davis says. "That will leave the cow at a body condition score of 5 at breeding, which is the optimum score for the cow to become pregnant."

It is also important that cows have at least a 5 BCS at calving, because these cows are more likely to have better-quality colostrum for their calves, which results in better calf health and performance throughout its lifetime.

Source: University of Missouri Extension

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