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Southeast: Body condition scoring: Is it important?

Matthew Burns for Progressive Cattle Published on 24 September 2020

People can argue what the key to success is for a cow-calf operation, but in my opinion, a cow giving birth to a healthy calf every year is a defining characteristic of success.

The reality is: We all strive to be profitable in the beef business, and pounds equal dollars. Our herd health, mineral, nutrition and grazing programs are designed to promote higher reproductive efficiency and provide us with more pounds. As a whole, the decisions and investments we make on our operations today can affect us over a 10-year period or longer.

It is very difficult to measure short-term success from day-to-day management decisions being made. We can easily lose “the forest for the trees” or “the herd for the cows.” However, there is one very quick and easy production measure that we can record and analyze to evaluate the impact of some of these short-term decisions: body condition score (BCS).

A poor BCS or changes in an animal’s BCS can be indicative of several things: nutritive quality of forages she is grazing or feedstuffs you are supplying; potential health concerns with regard to infection, parasite load, lameness or subacute/chronic problems that do not present with obvious signs; and other environmentally induced stressors such as heat stress or fescue toxicosis. Keeping good records and monitoring a cow’s and herd’s BCS over time will help to identify problems with individual animals or overall herd management concerns.

With fall breeding seasons just around the corner, now is the time to make plans and prepare. We have many tools at our disposal to aid us in preparation for the upcoming breeding season. Body condition scoring in beef cattle is one of these tools we as cattlemen tend to underutilize. One may even ask, what is body condition scoring? A cow’s body condition score is a numerical value from 1 (severely emaciated) to 9 (very obese) that reflects overall condition or fatness of the animal. Numerous studies have shown the impact of body condition scoring on calving interval, cycling status and pregnancy rates.

Cows that are in good body condition (BCS 5 to 6) are able to cycle back and conceive sooner than cows that are underweight or severely overweight. Having a calf every year (or a calving interval 365 days or less) increases a cow’s longevity in the herd and profitability for the producer. If you would like assistance with implementing a BCS system on your operation, I would encourage you to reach out to your local county extension office. Livestock agents can serve as great resources to help benchmark/calibrate your system as you get started.  end mark

Matthew Burns
  • Matthew Burns

  • Extension Beef Specialist
  • Clemson University
  • Email Matthew Burns

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