Britt’s Wit by Britt Whitt
Tis’ the season! No, not for Saint Nick, for many producers it is the time of year to evaluate what you’ve been feeding your cows.
The most valuable tools the cowman has in evaluating his feeding program are his eyes and knowledge of his cow herd. Body condition scoring is a practical, hands on, in the field tool that will benefit every operation. Body condition scores (BCS) ideally need to be evaluated by someone that has hands on experience with the cows they are scoring. The person that has the red book in their front shirt pocket and tagged the calves last spring is the perfect person to BCS cattle. This person knows the cow that raised twins, the cow that lost a calf early, the cow that was sick, and the cow that consistently just outperforms her herd mates. With these outlying cows identified this person is more qualified to access the average BCS of the cow herd and make appropriate changes if needed to the feeding program.
Beef cattle BCS are evaluated on a scale of 1-9. A score of 1 is considered an emaciated cow with a lowly 4 percent carcass fat percentage. A score of 9 is obese, with a body fat percentage of 35 percent. The “ideal” is a BCS of 5, this cow is considered in moderate frame and has a carcass fat percentage around 19 percent. These cows are proven in research to reproductively out perform their sisters with lower BCS. At the end of the day every cow operation comes down to efficient reproductive performance, this testifies to the importance of effectively using BCS systems.
A cow with a body conditions score of 5 or better will not have the last two ribs visible nor will she have visible vertebrae, she will also have a U instead of V shape between her hooks and pins. This cow’s BCS is a reflection that her nutritional requirements are being met and she’s maintaining herself and her growing calf. If your herd average looks like her or a little better you’re on the right track. If your herd average slides lower down the scale it is a good indication that your nutritional program isn’t keeping up with the demands of your cows. In this case your dry matter and protein intake needs re-evaluated to bring your herd average up. Winter time, which usually equates with the cow’s dry period and second trimesters of pregnancy, is an ideal time to raise BCS to set your operation and cow herd up for future success. The University of Wyoming extension service provides a free printable brochure that can help producers refine their BCS skills in the field. “3 Step Body Condition Scoring Guide for Range Cattle” is an informative photo guide easily found online. Practice makes perfect, and before long you will find yourself subconsciously scoring your cow herd and making minor adjustments for the benefit of your operation.