Evaluate body condition going into breeding season

Ashley Olson,
UW Madison Division of Extension
There are various factors to consider for having a successful breeding season and one of those factors is  cow’s body condition.

The green grass, sun, and cattle on pasture are signs that summer is in full swing and that breeding season is just around the corner for many commercial cow-calf operations. There are various factors to consider for having a successful breeding season and one of those factors is cow’s body condition. This article will discuss the definition of body condition, body condition scoring (BCS), and ways to achieve the ideal BCS for breeding season.

Body condition is the physical status of the body as a whole or one of its parts. Body condition scoring is a useful management tool used to evaluate energy reserves in the form of fat and muscle and nutritional status in beef cows using a 9-point scale. A score of 1 is an extremely thin cow and a score of 9 is an extremely obese cow. Body condition score allows a producer to visually access the cow herd and assign a number based off the appearance of the cow.

Since many producers don’t weigh their momma cows this is a tool that can be utilized year-round to keep track of the health of the herd. A good rule of thumb to follow is one point in BCS is equal to 75-80 pounds of live weight. If a cow weighed 1,100 pounds at BCS 4, that same cow would be expected to weigh 1,175 pounds at BCS 5 and 1,250 pounds at BCS 6.

It is important to remember that these weight changes do not include weight of the fetus or fetal membranes which in total amounts to 125 to 155 pounds for a cow in late gestation.

Since we are getting into breeding season, the main question is what is the ideal BCS for a cow that is preparing to get bred? The short answer is optimum BCS of 5. Thin cows are considered to be 1-3 and borderline of 4. Optimum is 5-7, and too heavy is 8-9. Both too thin and too heavy can cause problems during breeding season. The best times to conduct body condition scoring on your herd include at weaning, 90 days prior to calving, and at breeding.

The most difficult time to increase body condition is from calving to breeding, so it is important to score during other time periods as well. The best way to improve condition is to manage nutrition and the energy levels in your cattle ration to obtain desired BCS.

Make sure to test your feeds and work with a nutritionist for balancing rations. The easiest and most economical time to increase body condition is from weaning to calving, so keeping records on all cows including BCS will also aid in improving body condition and having a successful breeding season.

Body condition scoring is an effective tool for breeding season and should be utilized year-round. The age of cows also has an impact on BCS and breeding success. There are many tools to assist in helping determine BCS. Contact your local county extension educator for assistance.

Olson is a UW Madison Division of Extension Agriculture Educator in Vernon County