A Body Condition Score describes the degree of a cow's fatness. A numerical range of 1 to 9 identifies varying fatness degrees, with 1 being very thin and 9 being excessively fat.
To use the BCS system effectively, a producer needs to understand which areas of the cow anatomy deposit fat. When evaluating body condition, look over the back, ribs, hooks, pins and tail head. The brisket is also a good indicator of fat deposition.
When scoring, cows for body condition, producers need to account for pregnancy status, gut fill, hair coat and age. An average body condition is 5, so to begin the scoring process it's important to identify what a BCS 5 looks like and then score the rest of the herd accordingly. Live weight cannot be used to determine body condition. Animals can have different live weights but similar body condition scores. Likewise, animals of similar live weight may differ in body condition.
The numeric system of body condition scoring is an excellent estimator of percentage body fat in beef cows. Body condition score accounted for 85 to 91 percent of the variation in stored body energy in cows.
Seedstock producers can use body condition scoring at any point during the year, but it's best to select the same time each year to evaluate your herd for comparisons. Some breeders note a BCS during A.I. breeding season as the cows come through the chute. Others will make notes at weaning time while gathering mature cow weights. Body Condition Scores can be used to troubleshoot if there is a reproductive problem in the herd or to see which pedigree lines are efficient in keeping body condition.
BCS 1: Emaciated with muscle atrophy and no detectable fat. Tail head and ribs project predominately. The animal is physically weak.
BCS 2: Poor condition with muscle atrophy and no detectable fat. Tail head and ribs prominent.
BCS 3: Thin condition with slight muscle atrophy. All ribs are visible. Very little detectable fat.
BCS 4: Borderline condition with the outline of the spine slightly visible. Outline of 3 to 5 ribs visible with some fat over ribs and hips.
BCS 5: Moderate to good overall appearance. Outline of spine is no longer visible. The outline of 1 to 2 ribs is visible. Fat over hips, but hips are still visible.
BCS 6: High moderate condition with no ribs or spine visible. Pressure applied to feel bone structure. There is some fat in brisket and flanks.
BCS 7: Good, fleshy appearance. Hips slightly visible, but ribs and spine are not visible. Fat in brisket and flanks with slight udder and tail head fat.
BCS 8: Fat, fleshy and overconditioned. Bone structure is not visible. Large patchy fat deposits over ribs, around tail head and brisket.
BCS 9: Extremely fat, wasty and patchy. Mobility possibly impaired. Bone structure not visible. Extreme fat deposits over ribs, around tail head and brisket.
EXAMPLE BODY CONDITION SCORES