Body Condition Scoring in Spring

There are several points in the year that are a good time to re-evaluate beef cattle body condition scores.  Ideally, body condition is evaluated on a monthly basis as it is a road map to ensuring your cattle have the nutrition they need.  For spring calving herds, evaluating body condition now, prior to calving helps you plan for feeding the herd when they are at peak production shortly after calving.

Black baldie cow on green pasture background. Body areas to look for fat are numbered: 1-backbone, 2-ribs, 3-tailhead, as well as hooks & pins, 4-brisket, 5-flanks.

Areas to view when evaluating body condition score on beef animals. Body condition helps tell you if the animal is getting the right amount of feed. Photo by Lyssa Seefeldt.

Beef cattle are generally evaluated on a nine point scoring system.  The major areas of evaluation for fat cover include the spine, ribs, hook & pin bones, brisket fill, and presence of tailhead fat.  An animal with a score of 1 is emaciated with prominent bone structure (obviously we want to avoid this), an animal score of 5 having moderate fleshing while still being able to see the last two ribs, and an animal scoring 9 being excessively fat with no bone structure visible.

Beef cows maintaining a body condition score of at least 5 throughout gestation tend to recover condition faster after calving, breed back quicker, and have higher pregnancy rates which leads to an earlier calving the following year.  This usually results in a heavier calf at weaning.  Heifers should be maintained at a score of around 6 as they have more energy demands compared to a cow because not only are they are growing a calf and maintaining lactation, they are also finishing their own growth.  Cows that are too thin are more prone to sick or weak calves, decreased milking ability, and calving problems.  On the other side, a cow that is too fleshy can also have calving difficulties and is costing you money by eating more feed than she needs.

Body condition scores are critical to efficiently feeding your herd and the more uniformity there is in body condition, the easier it is to feed the herd appropriately.  Consider splitting the herd into at least two groups if you have more than one body condition score difference between animals.  If you split the herd into only two groups, heifers and thin cows should get grouped together as they will have higher nutrient requirements than cows with a body condition score of 5 or more.  Cows carrying more flesh than desired should be provided with lower value feed (as compared to thin cows or heifers) to bring the condition score down to the desired level, then maintained according to their nutrient requirements for their stage of gestation.

Keeping records of body condition scores is a simple and easy way to track progress when you are attempting to adjust body condition scores.  Progress can be monitored simply by re-evaluating an animal’s body condition in a month and adjusting your management of feed accordingly.  For thin cattle, positive changes in condition early on in pregnancy mean cheaper gains for you as it is challenging (and generally expensive) to get weight gains once the cow enters lactation.  After entering the third trimester, nutrient requirements of the animal are quickly increasing to support fetal growth: almost a pound a day gain can be expected.  You don’t want to be feeding to gain body condition during this period as it will be the most expensive time to add body weight since nutrient demands are high.  Feeding your herd according to body condition scores will allow you to make the most of your feed resources and help keep costs as minimal as possible.

A factsheet with examples of what different body condition scores look like in winter months and summer months can be downloaded at


Note: This article originally was published in the Marquette County Tribune, Waushara Argus, and/or the Berlin Journal.  This article was written by Lyssa Seefeldt, UW-Extension Agriculture Agent for Marquette County unless otherwise noted.