Body Condition ScoringBeef CattleBody condition scoring is a managementtool that can be used to evaluate thenutritional status of beef cattle. Body condition (fat cover) is an indication of theenergy reserves of a beef animal. It isimportant in beef production because itinfluences subsequent reproductive andgrowth performance. Cows and heifers inthin body condition at calving time areslower to rebreed, produce lesscolostrum, may not have sufficient nutrient reserves for maximum milk production, and are less likely to wean a livecalf. Overconditioning, on the other hand,is expensive and can result in calvingproblems and lower dry matter intakeearly in lactation.Body condition scores in beef cattlerange from 1 (extremely emaciated) to 9(very obese). Body condition can be evaluated easily by visual appraisal while driv-ing or walking through a herd (Figure 1).It can be assessed when cattle handlingmay be impractical. Body condition is amore reliable indication of nutritional status than live weight. Changes in shrink,gut fill, and the weight of the fetus andfluids associated with pregnancy limit liveweight from being an accurate indicator ofnutritional status.Two animals with the same body condition score may have dramatically different live weights. Similarly, cattle with thesame live weight may have distinctly different body condition scores. Weight differences between condition scores varydepending on the score and where the animal is in the production cycle. Theseweight differences often range from 70 to140 pounds. Percentage body fat associated with each distinct body condition scoreappears in Table 1.Figure 1. Beef cattle producer body condition scoring a herd at pasture.
Table 1. Beef cattle body condition score and associated body fat percent and shrunk body weight.Body Condition Score (BCS)Body Fat, %Shrunk body weight, % of BCS 26.38118830.15130933.91144Source: NRC, 2000. Adapted from NRC Nutrient Requirements of Beef Cattle, 7th revised edition.Using the table above, the body weight changeneeded to move from one body condition score toanother can be calculated. For example, a 1,200-poundcow at a body condition score of 5 would need toweigh 108 percent of its current weight to achieve abody condition score of 6. This cow would need togain 96 pounds (1,200 x 1.08 1,296; 1,296 - 1,200 96)to move up one body condition score. Table 2 gives anexample of weight differences between body conditionscores for different body weights.Table 2. Weight changes needed to increase one beef cattle body condition score.Body Condition Score (BCS)Animal Weight, poundsWeight Change Neededto Increase 1 BCS, ce: NRC, 2000. Adapted from NRC Nutrient Requirements of Beef Cattle, 7th revised edition.
Body condition depends on cattle nutritionalrequirements and past nutrient intake. Design nutritional programs to avoid dramatic variations in bodycondition scores. Recommended body condition scoreat calving is 5 for mature cows. Because heifers are stillgrowing, their nutritional requirements in terms ofnutrient percentages are higher than later in life.Therefore, manage heifers to calve in a body conditionscore of 6. Cattle require increased percentages of totaldigestible nutrients, in particular, in their diets aboverequirements for maintenance and performance toincrease body condition score. Nutrient requirementsto increase body condition score of mature cows arelisted in Tables 3 and 4.Table 3. Nutrient requirements to increase body condition score of mature beef cows from 4 to 5during the last 90 days of pregnancy.1Animal DescriptionMature body weightat BCS 5, lbDry Matter Intake (DMI)DMI,lb/dayDiet Nutrient DensityDaily Nutrients per AnimalCP,Ca,P,TDN,NEm,% DM Mcal/lb % DM % DM % DMDMI,% of BWTDN,lbNEm,McalCP,lbCa,lbP,lb.074 02.060.5220.127.116.1118.104.22.168 .078 .0431,20023.52.059.5822.214.171.1243.913.61.74.081 .0451BW total body weight shrunk body weight or 96% full body weight, TDN total digestible nutrients, NEm net energy for maintenance, CP crudeprotein, Ca calcium, P phosphorusSource: NRC, 2000. Adaptetd from NRC Nutrient Requirements of Beef Cattle, 7th revised edition.Table 4. Nutrient requirements to increase body condition score of non-pregnant mature beef cows.1AnimalDescriptionMature bodyweight atBCS 5, lbBody ConditionScore (BCS)Dry MatterIntake (DMI)Diet Nutrient DensityDaily Nutrients per AnimalCurrentBCSDaysto gain1 1.858.566.3.231,0001,1001,2004DMI,% of BWTDN, NEm,CP,Ca,P,% DM Mcal/lb % DM % DM% W total body weight shrunk body weight or 96% full body weight, TDN total digestible nutrients, NEm net energy for maintenance, CP crudeprotein, Ca calcium, P phosphorusSource: NRC, 2000. Adapted from NRC Nutrient Requirements of Beef Cattle, 7th revised edition.1
Key Places To Look for Body ConditionThere are several key places to assess body conditionin beef cattle. Overall body fat should be evaluatedalong with fat cover over the tailhead, ribs, and shoulder, and in the brisket. Muscling should be evaluatedto determine if it has been broken down for energy.This occurs when cattle reach the low end of the bodycondition scoring scale. Visible and palpable bonestructure is another essential part of body conditionscoring and includes the ribs, backbone, spinousprocesses, transverse processes, hooks (hips), and pins.Ribs- Foreribs- 12th and 13thPalpate the animal’s condition over the ribs, alongthe backbone, and over the tailhead to assist in assigning body condition scores. Fat (condition) will bespongy to the touch. Bone structure with little or no fatcover will feel sharp to the touch. Palpation of bodycondition is particularly beneficial when loose hide ora thick hair coat makes visual appraisal of body condition more difficult.Backbone/Spinous ProcessesTransverse ProcessesHooksTailheadPinsShoulderBrisketFigure 2. Key places on a live beef animal to evaluate body condition.
Recommended Times To BodyCondition Score the HerdBody condition scores of females in the breeding herdshould fall within a range of 5 to 7 from the beginningof the calving season throughout the breeding season.Condition score cows and heifers in the herd to properly plan and adjust forage and feeding programs.This helps ensure adequate body condition for optimum reproductive performance. Following are idealtimes to body condition score beef cattle: When calves are weaned60 days prior to calvingAt calvingAt the beginning of the breeding seasonProper body condition is also important for bullsto be fertile and active breeders. Target a body condition score of 6 for bulls at the beginning of the breeding season. Monitor bull body condition during thebreeding season to identify bulls that become too thin.Hand feeding or bull rotation may be necessary tomaintain adequate body condition for active breeding.Keep good records of body condition scores in theherd on a routine basis. This is an easy and importantstep in developing a successful herd nutrition program. Assign feeding groups based in part on bodycondition score to meet cattle nutrient needs and mostefficiently utilize feed and forage resources. Considerearly weaning as another option for managing thincows for successful rebreeding.Nutrition-related costs make up a significant percentage of cash costs in most cow-calf operations inMississippi. Monitoring body condition in the herd isa simple technique that can be used to make cost-effective herd nutrition decisions that optimize performance. For more information on body condition scoringbeef cattle, contact an office of the Mississippi StateUniversity Extension Service.
BCS 1 EmaciatedBCS 2 PoorNo palpable fat is detectable over the spinous processes, transverse processes, ribs, or hooks. The tailhead and ribs appearvery prominent.Animal is still somewhat emaciated but the tailhead and ribs areless prominent. Individual spinous processes are still sharp to thetouch. Some tissue cover is present over the ribs toward the topof the back.BCS 3 ThinBCS 4 BorderlineIndividual ribs including foreribs are easily identified but are notquite as sharp to the touch. Some fat can be felt along the spineand over the tailhead. Some tissue cover is present over the ribstoward the top of the back.Individual ribs may not be visually obvious. Individual spinousprocesses can be felt when palpated but feel rounded rather thansharp. Some fat cover is present over the ribs, transverse processes, and hooks.BCS 5 ModerateBCS 6 High moderateOverall appearance is generally good. Fat cover over ribs feelsspongy. Palpable fat cover is present on either side of the tailhead.A high degree of palpable fat exists over the ribs and around thetailhead. Firm pressure is needed to feel the spinous processes.
BCS 7 GoodBCS 8 FatConsiderable fat cover is present with a fleshy overall appearance. Fat cover over the ribs and around the tailhead is veryspongy. Fat “pones” or “rounds” may be starting to form alongthe tailhead.The animal is very fleshy and appears overconditioned. Palpationof the spinous processes is near impossible. Large fat deposits arepresent over the ribs and around the tailhead. Fat pones aroundthe tailhead are obvious.BCS 9 Extremely fatThe overall appearance is blocky with extremely wasty and patchyfat cover. The tailhead and hooks are buried in fatty tissue with fatpones protruding. Bone structure is no longer visible and barelypalpable. Large fatty deposits may even impair animal mobility.Figure 3. Body condition scores and descriptions for beef cattle.
ReferencesDeRouen, S.M., D.E. Franke, D.G. Morrison, W.E.Wyatt, D.F. Coombs, T.W. White, P.E. Humes, andB.B. Greene. 1994. Prepartum body condition andweight influences on reproductive performance offirst-calf beef cows. J. Anim. Sci. 72:1119-1125.Herd, D.B., and L.R. Sprott. 1986. Body condition,nutrition and reproduction of beef cows. TexasA&M Univ. Ext. Bull. 1526.Morrison, D.G., J.C. Spitzer, and J.L. Perkins. Influenceof prepartum body condition score change onreproduction in multiparous beef cows calving inmoderate body condition. 1999. J. Anim. Sci.77:1048-1054.National Research Council. 2000. NutrientRequirements of Beef Cattle. 7th Revised Edition,1996: Update 2000. National Academy Press.Washington, D.C.Tennant, C.J., J.C. Spitzer, W.C. Bridges, Jr., and J.H.Hampton. 2002. Weight necessary to change bodycondition scores in Angus cows. J. Anim. Sci. 2002.80:2031–2035.The information given here is for educational purposes only.References to commercial products, trade names, or suppliers aremade with the understanding that no endorsement is implied and thatno discrimination against other products or suppliers is intended.Copyright 2008 by Mississippi State University. All rights reserved. This publication may be copied and distributedwithout alteration for nonprofit educational purposes provided that credit is given to the Mississippi State UniversityExtension Service.By Jane A. Parish, Associate Extension/Research Professor, and Justin D. Rhinehart, Assistant ExtensionProfessor, Animal and Dairy SciencesDiscrimination based upon race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or veteran’s status is a violationof federal and state law and MSU policy and will not be tolerated. Discrimination based upon sexual orientation orgroup affiliation is a violation of MSU policy and will not be tolerated.Publication 2508Extension Service of Mississippi State University, cooperating with U.S. Department of Agriculture. Published infurtherance of Acts of Congress, May 8 and June 30, 1914. MELISSA J. MIXON, Interim Director(POD-07-08)
Adapted from NRC Nutrient Requirements of Beef Cattle, 7th revised edition. Table 1. Beef cattle body condition score and associated body fat percent and shrunk body weight. Body Condition Score (BCS) Body Fat, % Shrunk body weight, % of BCS 5 13.77 77 27.54 81 311.30 87 4 15.07 93 5 18.8