Body condition score for beef cattle

Body condition scoring (BCS) is a useful management tool for distinguishing differences in nutritional needs of beef cows in the herd. Body condition (fat cover) is an indication of the energy reserves of a beef animal. This system uses a numeric score to estimate body energy reserves in the cow. The percentage of open cows, calving interval, and calf vigor at birth are all closely related to the body condition of cows both at calving and during the breeding season. It is important in beef production because it influences subsequent reproductive and growth performance.

Cows and heifers in thin body condition at calving time are slower to rebreed, produce less colostrum, may not have sufficient nutrient reserves for maximum milk production, and are less likely to wean a live calf. Body condition scores in beef cattle range from 1 (extremely thin) to 9 (very obese). Body condition can be evaluated easily by visual appraisal while driving or walking through a herd. Body condition is a more reliable indication of nutritional status than live weight. Changes in shrink, gut fill, and the weight of the fetus and fluids associated with pregnancy limit live weight from being an accurate indicator of nutritional status. Two animals with the same body condition score may have dramatically different live weights. Similarly, cattle with the same live weight may have distinctly different body condition scores. Weight differences between condition scores vary depending on the score and where the animal is in the production cycle. These weight differences often range from 70 to 140 pounds.

Importance of body condition score

Body condition affects both cow and calf performance. Poor body condition is associated with reduced income per cow, increased post-partum interval (will result in a younger, smaller calf at weaning the next year and will result in lower incomes if sold at weaning), weak calves at birth, low quality and quantity of colostrum, reduced milk production, increased dystocia, and lower weaning weights. Weak calves at birth may not get adequate colostrum and are more susceptible to disease, reduced weaning weights, reduced feedlot performance, and less desirable carcass traits.

Key places for body conditioning

Livestock and Range









1.Back   2.tail head     3.Pins    4.Hooks      5.Ribs     6.Brisket

Description for Body Condition Scoring

Photo Body Condition Score Description
1 Tail head and ribs project predominantly. Animal physically weak.

No palpable fat is detectable over the spinous processes, transverse processes, ribs, or hooks.

2 Poor condition with muscle atrophy and no detectable fat. Animal is still somewhat thin but the tail head and ribs are less prominent. Individual spinous processes are still sharp to the touch. Some tissue cover is present over the ribs toward the top of the back.
3 Thin condition. Slight muscle atrophy. All ribs visible. Very little detectable fat.

Individual ribs including fore ribs are easily identified but are not quite as sharp to the touch. Some fat can be felt along the spine and over the tail head. Some tissue cover is present over the ribs toward the top of the back.

4 Borderline condition. Outline of spine slightly visible. Outline of 3 to 5 ribs visible. Some fat over ribs and hips. Individual spinous processes can be felt when palpated but feel rounded rather than sharp. Some fat cover is present over the ribs, transverse processes and hooks.
5 Moderate, good overall appearance. Outline of spine no longer visible. Outline of 1-2 ribs visible. Fat over hips but still visible.

Overall appearance is generally good. Palpable fat cover is present on either side of the tail head.

6 High moderate condition. Ribs and spine no longer visible. Pressure applied to feel bone structure. Some fat in brisket and flanks.

A high degree of palpable fat exists over the ribs and around the tail head.

7 Good, fleshy appearance. Hips slightly visible but ribs and spine not visible. Fat in brisket and lanks with slight udder and tail head fat. Fat cover over the ribs and around the tail head is very spongy. Fat “pones” or “rounds” may be starting to form along the tail head.


8 Fat, fleshy and over-conditioned. Bone structure not visible. Large patchy fat deposits over ribs, around tail head and brisket

Palpation of the spinous processes is near impossible. Fat pones around the tail head are obvious.

9 Extremely fat, wasty and patchy. Mobility possibly impaired. Bone structure not visible. Extreme fat deposits over ribs, around tail head and brisket. The tail head and hooks are buried in fatty tissue with fat pones protruding. Bone structure is no longer visible and barely palpable.


When to evaluate Body Condition

To properly identify cattle that have increased nutritional needs, producers should evaluate body condition as often as possible, but a minimum of three times (weaning, 90 days pre-calving and breeding) per year is preferred.

  • weaning

Evaluating body condition at weaning can be useful to determine which cows or heifers need the most gain prior to calving. Since calves will no longer suckle, lactating cows will be able to dry off and add needed weight before calving. The time period from weaning to calving has proven to be the easiest and most economical time to add condition to cattle.

  • 90 days prior to calving

Assessing body condition 90 days prior to the beginning of the calving season may be useful in preventing extended periods of anestrus. Cow nutritional requirements are greatly lowered when non-lactating and should allow the cow to achieve adequate body condition at calving with minimal supplemental feeding. Nutrition can then be adjusted for cattle that receive body condition scores of less than 5 after this assessment. Although changes in weight can be achieved, take care to prevent excessive weight gain immediately prior to calving.

  • Breeding

After undergoing the stress of parturition, cattle will lose body condition. The time period from calving to breeding is the most difficult in which to improve body condition. This is why it is very important to body condition score cows 90 days prior to calving and make ration changes to achieve optimum Body Score Condition prior to calving