This isn’t the first article, and I’m sure it won’t be the last article, telling you the importance of accurately gauging the nutritional condition of your brood cows, especially this time of year.  Your pregnant cow herd is in the last trimester and whether you meet their nutritional needs right before and right after calving will determine, to a great extent, the success of your farm.

Knowing the nutritional content of what you are putting into your cows is just the beginning and it only tells you so much. There is only one way to really determine whether that nutrition is accomplishing it’s goal and that is to determine the body condition score (BCS) of your herd. Like a lot of things that we should do, body condition scoring is a relatively easy thing to do.  You just look at your cows. 

A recent article I read says there are two major reasons for determining the body condition of your cow herd:
• Thin cows tend to produce lower quality colostrum and they also tend to have calves that take longer to stand and are less able to produce enough body heat to maintain their temperature in cold conditions.
• And, cows that are thin at calving are less likely to breed back in the first 21 days of the breeding season and more likely to be open come fall.

As I said, determining the body condition score of your cow herd is a relatively easy thing to do.  First, look at your cows.  Then determine where each cow’s body condition is, relative to a standard.  BCS scores range from 1, which is very thin and weak, to a 9, which is overly fat and obese.  You’d like to have your brood cows in the 5 and 6 range going into calving, if possible.  First calf heifers should even be in the high 6s or low 7s, if you want them to come back into heat as soon as possible. There are dozens of websites and factsheets available that will show you pictures of what each BCS number represents.  Take a look at one or two of these resources before you score your cows.

Being consistent in your scoring of each cow is just as important as putting a BCS number to each cow.  Whether that cow is a 5.5 or a 6 is less important than whether that cow dropped a point, in the last 30 days. That drop of a point relates to a drop of 80 to 100 lbs. of body weight. That is weight that’s difficult and costly to put back on when it’s cold outside and a calf is nursing.

Being consistent is difficult.  When you’re looking at your cows today, is the BCS 5 your writing down the same as the 5 you wrote down last month? Can you really recall what that cow looked like a month ago?

This is where new technology can help out and you can thank your wife for ordering you a smart phone with your last mobile phone contract. If you are still using a dumb phone get smart and get a smart phone. In this new world of apps there is an app for everything, including recording and assigning BCS scores for your cow herd.

One of the best is from the University of Nebraska.  It’s called the NUBeef-BCS app.  This app can be on your smart phone or tablet.  It allows you to take multiple pictures of your cows and record the pictures and corresponding BCS data with each picture. You can even take pictures and go back later, say in your office, and evaluate the pictures and assign a BCS number then.

There is even a tutorial that will walk you through the BCS process using a set of pictures from the University’s cow herd.  You will view pictures, assign BCS numbers, and learn whether you are scoring cows correctly, before you go out and do your own herd.

Evaluating and recording the body condition of your individual cows is an easy and practical management tool which can greatly impact your farm’s bottom line.  For most people it’s easier said than done.  It’s snowing, it’s really cold, its spitting sleet and icy rain, and you don’t really want to take the extra 5 or 10 minutes to look over your cows and assign a BCS number to each cow.  With a BCS app on your phone, snap a picture of each cow and when you get back to the house, grab a cup of coffee and evaluate the pictures.

Now, if you just had a tag in each cow’s ear, you could tell which picture went with which cow.