Body condition scores (BCS) describe the relative fatness of a cow through the use of a nine-point scale and is an effective management tool to evaluate nutritional status of the herd.

The body condition scoring system allows producers to visually assess their cow herd using a number system that objectively describes the amount of condition or fat reserve of an animal. Because cow/calf producers do not weigh cows on a regular basis, they need a management technique to evaluate their cow herd as it relates to productivity and profit potential.

Cow body condition score is closely related to reproductive efficiency and is a more reliable indicator of nutritional status of a cow then is body weight.

Body condition at calving impacts future reproductive performance for spring calving cows.

Grazing lost body condition back onto cows is more economical than carrying harvested forage to them to achieve the desired body condition. Managing body condition is like making the porridge for Goldie Locks not to hot, not to cold, but just right. It’s not economical to have cows too fat or too thin; they need to be just right at the right time of the production cycle.

When to condition score

As a rule of thumb, one BCS equates to about 75 to 80 pounds of live weight in cows. Thus, if a cow weighed 1,100 pounds at BCS 4, this 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, fetal membranes, or fetal fluids, which in total amounts to about 125 to 155 pounds for cows in late gestation.

With this concept in mind, remember a cow that is maintaining weight during late gestation is actually losing body weight and, possibly, body condition because the fetus is growing at least one pound per day.