Whether you’ve scored thousands of cows or just a handful, here are some quick tips to help boost your body condition score (BCS) skills. Some tips may be refreshers while others may be new to you. Regardless, all will help you become a better herd manager.
“Body condition scoring can tell you quite a bit about your herd, and the results can be used to make important management decisions,” says N.T. Cosby, Ph.D. and cattle nutritionist with Purina Animal Nutrition. “Because the data captured is so vital, it’s good practice to recalibrate your scoring skills.
Here are 10 tips to brush up your BCS skills:
1. Calculate the percentage of each BCS in your herd.
For example, 23 cows in a 115-cow herd with a 5 BCS equals 20 percent of the herd. However, do most cows fall between 4.5 and 6 BCS, or are the majority between 3.5 and 7? Both situations result in roughly the same average score (5 BCS), but they tell different stories of herd performance.
2. Score on a regular basis.
There are three key times to collect scores: 60 days before calving, at calving/pre-breeding, and at weaning. It’s most important to score 60 days before calving because the condition in which a cow calves impacts how quickly she will return to estrus.
3. Get another perspective.
If you see your cows every day, it’s difficult to notice if they’re losing weight, so have someone else look at your cows occasionally. It’s also helpful to have multiple people scoring to cross-check. Keep a BCS scoring guide handy to recalibrate.
4. Write scores down.
Written records help identify trends, especially in groups with a consistent BCS. A simple chart on a notebook page can work well. Down the left column list the possible scores (1 to 9), including half scores. As you evaluate the herd, put an X in the row corresponding to the animal’s BCS. This format makes it easy to quickly tally across the row and calculate the percentage of the herd at each score.
5. Capture a representative sample.
Aim to score 60 to 65 percent of cows for a holistic picture of the herd. Larger range or challenging environments may prove difficult to achieve this percentage. In those situations, use known cattle patterns to your advantage. For instance, score at the time of day you know cattle visit a water source or when you might expect them behind a windbreak.
6. Don’t forget to include the date and conditions.
Date your scoresheet and make note of the weather conditions on the day you scored. You’re more inclined to score higher on a bright, sunny day than on a cloudy, overcast day. These notes can provide additional insights as you compare data sets.
7. Focus on young and old cows.
Young cows and older cows serve as a good barometer for the herd. They’re often the first to show visual change with any environmental, management or nutritional challenges. Keeping close tabs on these early indicator groups and making necessary adjustments can help avoid a whole-herd impact.
8. Pictures can’t tell the full story.
Taking pictures of cows on your cell phone can be a handy way to monitor BCS, but beware of shadows that can make it difficult to accurately score. You’ll be able to tell a BCS 4 from a 6, but it’s harder to distinguish a BCS 5 from a 5.5. It’s particularly challenging to tell differences in photos on mostly black cattle.
9. Maximize your time spent observing.
While in the pasture, observe other management factors. Do you need additional fly control? Are mineral feeders full? Should you move a feeder to move cattle into an underused pasture area?
10. Act on the data.
Forage quality and quantity change as seasons change, but body condition should remain steady. If you’re seeing a shift toward a lower BCS or suspect a shift could happen soon, it’s time to look at supplement options. A protein supplement with intake control properties can provide energy to complement your forage and maintain cow body condition through all seasons.
“These tips are good reminders and can help you recalibrate your scoring skills,” says Cosby. “However, step one is to make time to score on a regular basis. Scoring provides you with data to help you make critical herd management decisions, like adding a supplement before scores slip or slip further.”
Purina® Accuration® Hi-Fat Block is a self-fed, high-fat protein supplement for cattle consuming inadequate or low-quality forage. The supplement delivers 10 percent fat to provide additional energy and balance forage nutrient deficiencies.