Beef Cattle Body Condition Score Is An Important Management Tool
One of a slew of management tools a rancher should have in
his or her tool belt is an in-depth understanding of body condition scores and the subsequent information they can
provide the rancher.
To a rancher who knows body conditioning, even a simple passing glance at a cow or the
entire herd can yield a problem that may need to be addressed. But, armed with a good understanding of this topic,
a rancher can be constantly evaluating his or her nutritional program.
While it is not necessary to spend every day monitoring or eyeing the herd, consistent
monitoring can also help a rancher determine what, if any, supplemental programs to enact or examine current feed
rations and rationing. In doing so, ranchers ensure productivity of the herd and profitability for their ranch.
Body condition scores (BCS) are numbers, 1-9 in the United States, used to indicate the
relative fatness or body composition of the cow. As with many herd management programs, systems and techniques, BCS
is most effectively employed when a system is developed by the rancher based on his or her own conditions and
It's not Rocket Science
It doesn’t take an expert cattleman to know when a cow looks skinny, but there
are certain specific indications that point to a cow’s BCS.
Thin cows look very sharp, angular and skinny, fat cows look smooth and boxy with no
sign of bone structure. To determine a cow’s body condition score, look to see how many ribs are visible to the
naked eye. If more than 2 ribs are easily seen, the cow will generally score lower than five. Also look closely at
the vertebrae along the edge of the loin in front of the hook bones. If the outline of the vertebrae is visible,
expect the cow to receive a body condition score of 4 or lower.
The nine scores:
SCORE 1. The lowest score means a cow is usually infected with disease or
parasites. This cow will appear severely skinny and will be physically weak. Rib and bones will clearly be
SCORE 2. The cow is similar to a score of one and also appears emaciated. The cow does
not seem weakened though. Muscle tissue seems severely depleted through the hindquarters and shoulder.
SCORE 3. The cow has no fat on ribs or in brisket and the backbone is sticking out.
Some muscle depletion appears is visible as well, usually in the hindquarters.
SCORE 4. The cow is thin, with ribs and backbone visible to the naked eye. Muscle
tissue is not depleted through the shoulders and hindquarters.
SCORE 5. This is a moderately thin cow. A few ribs can be seen and little evidence of
fat is present in the brisket, over the ribs or around the tail head.
SCORE 6. The cow generally looks good. Some fat deposition is present in the brisket
and over the tail head. The back appears rounded and fat can be palpated over the ribs and pin bones.
SCORE 7. The cow appears very good. The brisket is full, the tail head shows pockets of
fat and the back appears square. The ribs are very smooth and soft handling due to fat cover.
SCORE 8. The cow is obese. Her neck is thick and short and her back very square due to
excessive fat. The brisket is distended and she has heavy fat pockets around the tail head.
SCORE 9. These cows are very obese and are rarely seen. They can be described as
similar to 8's but much larger. They also have a heavy deposition of udder fat.
Some ranchers think it is also better to feel the cow to truly determine fatness.
Generally, a rancher familiar with cattle and their breeds will know off the bat when a member of the herd looks
skinny or fat. The body conditioning score helps a rancher to make a more informed decision as to whether of not to
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