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Body Condition Score (BCS)

Body Condition Score (BCS) charts come in either 1-through-5 or 1-through-9 versions. The Body Condition Score is something to consider when estimating or predicting size, weight or frame scores in cattle. BCS's may be used as a standardized description for communicating with your veterinarian, when buying or selling cattle and other situations. Since body condition greatly affects reproductive performance as well as feed efficiency, knowing and monitoring BCS can influence a producer’s bottom line.

Beef Cattle 1 - 5 score illustration

above illustration from Queensland, Australia

nfacc.ca - BCS 5 chart

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Beef Cattle 1 - 9 score

1. Emaciated Little muscle left
2. Very Thin
No fat, bones visible
3. Thin
Foreribs visible
4. Borderline Foreribs not visible, 12th & 13th ribs visible
5. Moderate
Neither fat nor thin
6. Good Smooth appearance
7. Very Good
Smooth with fat over back and tail head
8. Fat
Blocky. Bone over back not visible
9. Very Fat
Tail buried in fat




(girl, when you know you're a 10...)

to fatten ~ or too fat?

If pasture is rich and your mini cattle begin to get too fat, you will need to reduce the time they graze. When they are too fat, they could have trouble breeding or calving. In dairy or dual purpose cattle, over conditioning can lower milk production. In that case, reduce their time on rich pasture to approximately 6 hours a day. Experiment. Put them into a corral and feed hay the rest of the day or night.


SEE ALSO: cowbcs.info photo gallery showing Angus cows with BCS 3 - 9

SEE ALSO: Body Condition Scoring Beef Cows: A Tool for Managing the Nutrition Program for Beef Herds. University of Nebraska–Lincoln and County Extension and the United States Department of Agriculture. © 2007-2014 - pdf opens in new window


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Dairy Cattle 1 - 5 score illustration

bcs chart dairy
Dairy Cattle Body Condition Scoring Chart--Edmonson et al. 1989

bcs dairy cow

SEE ALSO Examples of Cow at Various Body Condition Scores - PennState Extension Agency, BCS 1 - 5


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more BCS information

cow weights vary from 7% to 8% per body condition score
cow weights vary up to 10% due to muscling type
Half of a calf’s lifetime height and growth is achieved in its first 6 months. 25% of a calf’s lifetime weight gain happens within the precious six-month window of birth. “There is no such thing as compensatory frame growth – a short calf will be a short cow. I’m talking not just scale and size. I’m also talking body, lung, liver and digestive capacity. They are all set in early life.” ~ David Kuehnel, a US dairy cattle specialist. He majored in Meat and Animal Science at the University of Wisconsin, and was the president of Milk Products for Land O’Lakes – the biggest producer of milk replacer in North America. Today, he runs a consultancy firm, “Rule of Three.”
If breeding at 14-15 months, (to calve at 24 mos) heifers should weigh 60 to 65% of their mature weight.
Formula to figure how much hay a cow needs in winter:
Take her body weight x .03 = minimum lbs. hay a day needed. Free choice in very harsh winter weather.

How to use BCS to increase cattle fertility
Sadly, this article shows a cow with BCS #1 or 2 ...
in this article author Julius Ruechel explores the powerful correlation between body condition at calving time and conception rates. He shares some management changes you can make on your farm to take advantage of this powerful correlation so you can increase conception rates in your herd while reducing your production costs at the same time.

Grass-Fed Cattle: How to Produce and Market Natural Beef Hardcover or Paperback by Julius Ruechel.

"For people starting out in raising grass-fed beef, this book is essential." ~ Temple Grandin.


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USDA muscle thickness scores

How to Score Muscle Thickness in Cattle:

Caution: When assessing thickness of muscle in cattle; always assess fatness first - it is easy to be too generous in muscle scoring with fat cattle.

As cattle fatten:

Manual Fat Assessment:

The main areas to feel are the short ribs of the loin, over the long ribs and the tailhead. Pinch out of a fold of skin next to the tail to feel how much fat there is. As the skin is about 6mm thick, deduct 12mm from the total thickness to estimate the fat thickness under the skin.

Visual Muscling Assessment:

While there is some debate as to the importance of carcass conformation or muscle shape, research has shown that retail yield increases 1.5% for each increase in live muscle score (not carcass muscle score) at the same live-weight and fatness.

Muscling is assessed into 5 scores, A to E, or 1 to 5 with A or 1 being the most muscular and 5 or E being the least muscular.

Muscle scores do not infer a quality standard but rather describe the thickness and shape of the muscle in relation to frame size.

Muscle score should always be compared within animals of similar age and frame type.

Heavily muscled cattle stand with their hind legs further apart that lighter muscled animals. From the side, observe curvature of the muscles of the thigh. Muscle seams are clearly evident in heavily muscled leaner cattle. Also observe the thickness of the forearm. Heavily muscled cattle have a more expressive forearm then more lightly muscled cattle.


assessing muscle thickness


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