How to body condition score cattle and how to use this for herd management decisions?

Published 28th October 2021

The assessment of cattle’s body condition score (BCS) gives a visual estimate of their body fat reserves during various production phases. When regularly used, this information can be used to formulate management and feeding decisions. In the video below, Hustler sales manager for North America Lance Paskewitz visited Mike from ‘Our Wyoming Life‘ YouTube channel to provide some tips about BCS, how the body condition impacts your herd and ultimately, your bottom line.



Though live weight gives an indication of body size, it can be markedly affected by gut fill and stage of pregnancy. BCS can also be carried out regularly and easily in circumstances where weighing may be impossible or impractical. 

Beef and dairy herds can use BCS so feeding and management can be regulated to ensure that breeding cattle attain the appropriate BCS at different stages of their production cycle. 

Body condition scoring system

Body Condition Scores (BCS) are numbers on a scale used to describe the relative fatness or body composition of the cow. The scoring system has a range of 1 to 9, with 1 representing very thin cows and 9 representing very fat cows. Cattle with a BCS of 5 is said to be in average condition but the descriptions of an “average” cow may vary. For BCS to be most helpful, producers need to calibrate the 1 to 9 system under their own conditions. 

How does the BCS affect your herd?

In beef cows, body condition affects the amount and type of winter feed supplements that will be needed. Fat cows usually need only medium-quality hay and small amounts of supplement plus mineral and vitamin supplementation. Thin cows usually need high-quality hay and may also need supplements that are high in energy (+70 percent TDN), medium in protein (12 to 15 percent CP), plus mineral and vitamin supplementation.

Dairy cows generally are in a negative energy balance until 9 to 12 weeks of lactation. Managing body condition can help get them bred back. In dairy cows, the roughage and concentrate feeds are needed for substantial production of milk, which typically peaks five to eight weeks after calving. In addition, as in beef cows, feedstuffs are used for maintenance, live weight gain and fetal growth in pregnancy.

BCS assessment can combine sight and touch

A BCS can be assigned to a cow either by a visual appraisal, by palpation or by combining sight and touch. A recent study in Texas indicated that cattle could be scored equally well by palpation of fat cover or by visual appraisal. An accurate visual appraisal may be hampered by hair coat. For cattle with long hair, handling is of value, but when hair is short, handling probably is not necessary. Remember that gut fill and animals in late pregnancy may make animals appear fatter than they actually are. Figure 1 gives guidelines for determining BCS by palpation of fat cover.


Remember that your feeding method is also important to deliver and preserve the highest quality hay possible. Find out more on our previous #FeedGrassForGood articles: