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The value of body condition scoring cows

published: October 4th 2019
by: Joe C. Paschal
One of the easiest management tools that cattle producers can learn, and use, is to body condition score (BCS) cows. Usually, it is done 60 to 90 days prebreeding in order to have enough time to assist thin cows to regain some weight (and fat) before breeding to improve fertility. 
Cows can be scored from a 1 (very thin) to 9 (very fat). Ideally, prior to breeding, cows should score 5 (no ribs observed) or higher, while heifers should score 6 (roundness over the hip and pin bones) or higher. 
The earliest reports in Texas of the impact of body condition on fertility were over 60 years ago from the Texas Agricultural Experi-ment Station (now the Tex-as A&M AgriLife Re-search Station) at Beeville, Texas where it was found that cows with higher levels of fatness were further along in their pregnancy (they bred earlier in the controlled breeding season). Over time, the current body condition scoring system was developed. 
Cows and heifers in optimal BCS (5 or 6) will have higher pregnancy rates and first service conceptions (resulting in more calves born earlier in the calving season and weaning heavier). Additionally, cows that calve in optimal body condition usually have a less difficult time calving and produce a higher quality and quantity of colostrum and rebreed earlier.
Although there are cows that might condition score lower than 3 or higher than 7, most cows will be in that range of 4 - 6. For a cow to move from a BCS 3 to a 4 or from a 4 to a 5, she will need to gain approximately 8% of her body weight. For a cow that weighs 1,200 pounds, that is approximately 100 pounds, which is why it is suggested to check 60-90 days prior to breeding. 
Cows should be evaluated as a group; cows with lower BCS should be moved to better pastures or provided supplement to help recover lost condition. Cows in lower BCS that are gaining weight often breed much better, sometimes called a “flushing” effect, than if they were not supplemented. 
Body condition scoring can be utilized in bulls as well. Fatness is associated with fertility and thin bulls in low body condition are less fertile.
In addition to numerous publications on Body Con-dition Scoring in cattle, such as https://animalscie, there are also several phone applications that can assist in determining BCS of cows. You don’t have to be precise in applying scores, you just need to recognize what a thin cow looks like, what the impact is on her productivity, and correct it.

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