Research has shown that cow body condition score is related to the postpartum interval, rebreeding performance and the quality of colostrum the cow produces for its newborn calf. That means a cow body condition score measurement is an important task on any beef cattle operation.
"One of the best times to evaluate cow body condition is at weaning which is taking place presently in spring calving cows," said Patrick Davis, livestock specialist with University of Missouri Extension.
The first step is to learn how to identify a cow body condition score.
"The beef cow body condition scoring system is a one to nine system with one being extremely thin emaciated and nine being extremely fat or obese. The management range of cow body condition score typically discussed is body condition scores of four to six," said Davis.
For a condition score of four, cows have the outline of the spine being slightly visible, the outline of three to give ribs visible and some fat over ribs and hips.
At a condition score of five, cows have a good overall appearance where the spine outline is not visible, one to two ribs outlines are visible, and there is the beginning of fat over the hips, but they are still visible.
For a condition score of six, cows have ribs and spine not visible, pressure is needed to feel bone structures, and fat accumulation is beginning in the brisket and flanks.
"Cow body condition score is appraised visually and by palpating fat indicators of the cows. This can be done easily when cows go through the chute for other services," said Davis.
The times to collect cow body condition score data is at weaning and calving. At weaning, cow body condition score should be four or greater because if it gets lower, it will take a lot of nutrition to get that cow back to her correct condition at calving.
"If cows are at a body condition score of four and the calf is big enough to wean then go ahead and wean the calf because feeding cow and calf separately is better than trying to put a condition on the cow with a suckling calf," said Davis.
The best time to increase condition on a cow is while she is dry because of her low nutrient requirements. It is also the best time to identify cow condition score and determine a nutritional management strategy to get that cow back to the optimum body condition score of six before the next calving season.
"The reason for a body condition score six before the next calving season is that it will allow the cow to lose one body condition score from calving to breeding. That will leave the cow at body condition score of 5 at breeding which is the optimum score for the cow to become pregnant," said Davis
It is also important that cows have at least a five body condition score at calving because these cows are more likely to have better quality colostrum for their calves which results in better calf health and performance throughout its lifetime.