Tracking a cow’s body condition score has become a standard method in judging general breeding soundness. A cow that is too skinny or too fat is prone to more difficulty at breeding, conception and at raising a healthy calf. And, given today’s cattle and feedstuff prices, it’s more important than ever to convert the costs of herd maintenance and your labor into marketable pounds of beef.
Over the years, beef experts have settled on a few times of year that are optimal for checking body condition. These times are significant in the breeding cycle and if you pay close attention, you’ll have time to help cows recover body condition through feeding and sorting. Typically, it’s a 90- to 120-day schedule, with particular scrutiny at 30 days prior to breeding, 90 days post-breeding, weaning, 100 days prior to calving, and calving.
Taking a look at breeding cows multiple times during the year is important because changing an animal’s body condition score takes time. To move up a score, you generally need to add 60 to 80 pounds of body weight on
small- and- medium framed cows. A large-framed cow needs closer to 100 to 150 pounds of body weight to move up a condition score.
Moreover, improving a cow’s condition is only efficiently accomplished at certain times in the year. For example, it’s difficult to recover body condition during the first months of lactation when cows are directing feed energy toward nursing a hungry calf. In fact, even with good available feed, cows often lose condition in this stage—a time when the initial body condition recovery for re-breeding needs to take place. Assuming that cows will lose a condition score or more after calving is a an argument for achieving proper condition prior to calving.
A cow that falls too far behind in body condition costs money in one form or another, either through expensive “emergency” supplement to regain condition or through failure to cycle, failure to conceive, increased days to estrus and calving intervals. If a low-scoring cow does successfully breed, there’s a greater chance for weak, poor-doing calves.
A final point about extremely low body condition scores: cull cows are worthless if they can’t make it to market. And current cull-cow markets reward the seller for the weight producers manage to put on cows.
Download a copy of the Body Condition Score sheet, courtesy MFA Feed and Animal Health divisions.