A body condition score (BCS) is a subjective evaluation of an animal’s weight relative to its size. It helps livestock owners determine whether an animal is too fat, too thin, or just about right by noting the location and thickness of fat deposits. Over the next few weeks, we will summarize the scoring systems generally used for cattle, horses, swine, sheep, and goats.
The body condition scoring system for beef cattle uses a nine-point scale, with 1 representing emaciation, 9 indicating obesity, and an ideal score ranging anywhere from 5 to 7.
- Emaciated. Visibly weak, very little muscle, all bones easily visible. Long-term loss of growth and fertility, even after recovery. This animal is at risk of death.
- Very thin. No fat, little muscle, bones visible. The main difference between this score and BCS 1 is that the animal is not weak yet. Long-term loss of growth and fertility, even after recovery.
- Thin. Some muscle visible, but no fat on ribs or brisket. Backbone easily visible. Long-term loss of growth and fertility, even after recovery.
- Borderline thin. Backbone and last three to five ribs somewhat visible. Some muscle in the shoulder and hindquarters. Reduced fertility in next breeding season.
- Moderate. Not fat, but not too thin, either. Last one or two ribs visible. No fat in the brisket, tailhead, or rib area. Muscle in the shoulder and hindquarters. This is the minimum optimal weight for cattle, but is not sufficient for the high energy demands of calving, lactation, and rebreeding.
- Good. Smooth appearance with no ribs visible. Some fat in the brisket, and a little bit around the tailhead. This is the minimum ideal weight for cows at calving time.
- Very good. Smooth and well fleshed out. Brisket full, back smooth and square with fat, some pockets of fat around the tailhead. This is the maximum ideal weight for cows at calving time.
- Fat. Square, blocky appearance from excess fat. Hip bones not visible at all. Fat deposits in udder and tailhead. Impaired fertility.
- Obese. Extremely fatty, particularly in the brisket, udder, and tailhead areas. Impaired fertility. This score is rarely seen.
Grassfed producers with beef cow-calf herds often use body condition scoring to minimize hay usage and ensure maximum fertility. Cows go into the winter with a score somewhere around 7 and burn fat for extra energy, much as animals do in the wild. Come spring, they score around 5, but they quickly build condition on lush, fast-growing pasture, reaching 7 again before calving so that they will rebreed without difficulties.
Body Condition Scoring Beef Cows
This publication from the Virginia Cooperative Extension provides more detailed information and helpful photos that illustrate each score.