Body Condition Scoring of Beef Cattle

cow calfAg Biz News Column
Chad Gulley
County Extension Agent—Ag/NR
Smith County


Body Condition of Beef Cattle

As we enter spring months, livestock will be transitioning from hay, supplementation, and winter forage to our perennial warm season forages like Bermudagrass or bahiagrass.  The percentage of body fat in our beef cattle at specific stages of production is important to determine overall reproductive performance as well as their overall productivity.

Body condition of our cattle at various stages of production has a number of practical implications.   Body condition scores or BCS are numbers used to suggest the relative fatness or body composition of our cattle.  Body condition scoring uses numbers from 1 to 9 with a score of 1 representing very thin body conditions while 9 represents extreme fatness.  Cattle in the 5 to 7 range are in the range we call the optimum condition.

Cattle can be evaluated and sorted according to body condition.  This is an efficient way to use the body condition scoring system to manage the cattle herd.  Cattle can be sorted 90 to 100 days prior to calving so nutritional needs for each herd can be changed to meet the needs of that group of cattle.

Based on body condition, we can supplemental feed cattle to increase body condition scores.  The manager will need to evaluate the forage available, energy and protein requirements of the cattle, and the mineral program.   It may be beneficial to keep young growing heifers separate from grown cows as the younger cattle will have a much different nutritional requirement than the grown cow.

Avoid over-stocking pastures when raising cattle.  Proper stocking rates, a year-round mineral program, and timely use of protein supplementation offers the greatest potential for economically improving body condition scores and rebreeding performance of beef cattle.

Body condition scoring provides a measure of an animal’s nutrition reserves which is more useful and reliable than live weight alone.  It may not be practical to weigh cattle periodically so body condition scoring is a tool manager can use in their nutritional management of the herd.  Two individual animals on the same pasture may have different live weights but have similar body condition scores.  One may be carrying an extra 100 pounds of body reserves while the other may have lost 100 pounds of reserves.  While these two individuals may weigh much differently, they could very well be scored the same.

Cattle should be in good condition at calving and should maintain good body condition during the breeding season.  Environmental factors can also play a role in body condition scoring.  Weather conditions may affect the forage availability.  This has been a factor the last few years with the dry conditions in the summer months thus limiting the amount of forage available.  During winter months, it may be necessary to not only feed hay but to add supplementation to the herd depending on the body condition and nutritional requirements of each herd.

As we transition into warm season perennial grasses, soil testing and fertility will both be important factors in the forage availability and are factors we have some control over.  Avoid over stocking and allow warm season forages time to get growing before we graze them too hard.

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