It's important to have an idea what degree of body condition (fat) beef cows have according to Eldon Cole, a livestock specialist with University of Missouri Extension.
"A key time to make these body condition scoring (BCS) decisions is at weaning time. Reproduction is highly influenced by fat deposition and cows can be both too thin as well as too fat," said Cole.
Thin or low BCS cows should be separated and given better or more nutritious feed. At the same time, the fleshy cows, BCS 7 or above, might even be put on a diet and given lower quality forage.
In order to communicate body condition scoring (BCS) more accurately, a system has been used for several years to describe those differences.
The system runs from a 1 to a 9 with 1's being extremely thin, physically weak with all ribs showing.
"Seldom do we find animals in that bad a shape. A 2, BCS is very similar to the 1 but they are not weak. The 9 BCS animal is obese and seldom seen unless she's missed calving the last couple of years and is fed way too much," said Cole.
The most common scores found in herds range from a 4 to a 7. Arguments can be made about the ideal BCS and typically they are from 5.0 to a 6.5.
"Many scorers of body condition will break on a .5 when they can't decide if the cow or bull is a 5 or a 6. Yes, bulls need a BCS too," said Cole.
A 5 is a very acceptable condition, especially at weaning time. The cow in a 5 BCS is moderately thin and the last 2 ribs can usually be seen. That means there is very little fat present in the brisket, over the ribs or around the tail head.
The 6 BCS animal has a very smooth appearance, no ribs are visible and fat is noticeable in the brisket and on either side of the tail head. According to Cole, this is the desired condition for 2-year old heifers just ahead of calving.
"On average it takes about 80 to 100 pounds of live weight to advance a cow one BCS. This is important if you discover at weaning that you have several cows in the 3 and 4 BCS range," said Cole.
Mature cows with a 4 BCS should be managed to move up to at least a 5 or possibly a 6 in about two or three months depending on expected calving date.
If a cow needs to move up that means they need to add at least 100 pounds of body weight to calve in acceptable flesh. According to Cole, this will require either very good hay and pasture or some concentrated feed.
"When you run your spring calving herd through the chute for their preg check, try putting a BCS on each one. Record it on their herd record. It can be quite revealing as you compare daughters from different breeds or different sires," said Cole.
For more information, contact any of the MU Extension livestock specialists in southwest Missouri: Eldon Cole in Mt. Vernon, (417) 466-3102 or Dona Goede in Cedar County, (417) 276-3313.