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Cattle Body Condition Score

Cattle body condition scores (BCS) uses a 9-point scale to describe the relative fatness of a cow. It is an effective management tool to evaluate nutritional and health status of your herd. To access a cow's body condition score, producers can use a number system to objectively describe the cow’s condition and fat reserves through a visually assessment. BCS provides for an alternative to evaluate a herd’s health without weighing and measuring the animals directly and is closely related to reproductive efficiency and is often a more reliable indicator of nutritional status than only body weight.

The following are key areas for evaluation for beef cows: backbone, ribs, hips, pin bones (pins), tailhead, and brisket.


The following is a description of the 1 to 9 body condition scoring system where a BCS 1 cow is extremely thin and emaciated and a BCS 9 cow is very fat and obese. Assign a cow a condition score in whole numbers (3, 4, 5, etc.).


Cow Body Condition Scoring Table


Group

BCS

Description

Emaciated

1

Bone structure of shoulder, ribs, back, hooks, and pins are sharp to the touch and easily visible. No evidence of fat deposits or muscling

Very Thin

2

No evidence of fat deposition and there is muscle loss especially in the hindquarters. The spinous processes feel sharp to the touch and are easily seen with space between them.

Thin

3

Very little fat cover over the loin, back, and foreribs. The backbone is still highly visible. Processes of the spine can be identified individually by touch and may still be visible. Spaces between the processes are less pronounced. Muscle loss in hind quarter.

Borderline

4

Foreribs are slightly noticeable and the 12th and 13th ribs are still very noticeable to the eye. The transverse spinous processes can be identified only by palpation (with slight pressure) and feel rounded rather than sharp. Slight muscle loss in hind quarter.

Moderate

5

The 12th and 13th ribs are not visible to the eye unless the animal has been shrunk. The transverse spinous processes can only be felt with firm pressure and feel rounded but are not noticeable to the eye. Spaces between the processes are not visible and are only distinguishable with firm pressure. Areas on each side of the tailhead are starting to fill.

Fleshy

6

Ribs are fully covered and are not noticeable to the eye. Hindquarters are plump and full. Noticeable springiness over the foreribs and on each side of the tailhead. Firm pressure is now required to feel the transverse processes. Brisket has some fat.

Smooth

7

Ends of the spinous processes can only be felt with very firm pressure. Spaces between processes can barely be distinguished. Abundant fat cover on either side of the tailhead with evident patchiness. Fat in the brisket.

Fat

8

Animal takes on a smooth, blocky appearance. Bone structure disappears from sight. Fat cover is thick and spongy and patchiness is likely. Brisket is full

Very Fat

9

Bone structure is not seen or easily felt. The tailhead is buried in fat. The animal’s mobility may actually be impaired by excessive fat. Square appearance.

Visual description of key body locations for each body condition score:

Reference

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

Physical weak

Yes

No

No

No

No

No

No

No

No

Muscle atrophy(1)

Yes

Yes

Yes

Slight

No

No

No

No

No

Outline of spine visible

Yes

Yes

Yes

Slight

No

No

No

No

No

Outline of ribs visible

All

All

All

3-5

1-2

0

0

0

0

Fat in brisket and flanks

No

No

No

No

No

Some

Full

Full

Extreme

Outline of hip and bones visible

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Slight

No

No

No

No

Patchy fat around tailhead

No

No

No

No

Slight

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

(1) Muscles of loin, rump, and hindquarter are concave, indicating loss of muscle tissue. Adapted from Pruit and Momont, South Dakota State University, 1988


Other Cattle Resources:


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