Livestock Body Condition Scoring

— Written By and last updated by

With the summer coming to an end and fall and winter fast approaching, livestock producers usually take on winter with a great deal of anxiety. With feed costs high, nutritional balance is critical. By learning to score livestock by body condition, producers can make logical decisions on their feeding programs.

Body condition scores are simply a visual appraisal of the amount of fat covering on the animal. By looking at the fat deposition over the brisket, shoulder, ribs, spine, tailhead, hipbones and pin bones, and assigning each animal a score, producers can evaluate their nutritional program. Use a scale of 1-9, with 1 being emaciated and 9 being obese. Opinions can differ on whether an animal is a 4 or 5, however, the important thing to remember is that body condition scores divide the herd or flock into 3 groups, animals that are too thin or too fat, and those just right. If the majority of your animals fall into the just right category, 5-6, then their nutrition is sufficient, and the thin and obese animals don’t fit the environment they are in. Adjust the feed based on what your animals are showing you. Keep in mind that some groups of livestock are the exception. Bred females within 75 days of parturition should always be in the just right category, and weanling animals will almost always be on the thin side, while animals during breeding season should be gaining in body condition, so grouping animals helps to maximize production. It is beneficial for producers to have animals around 5-6 body condition score going into winter. These animals will lose some condition through the winter but will emerge in good condition to calve and breed back the following year without special care. Animals that enter the winter feeding period at less than a 5, will lose too much body condition and will become excessively thin by the following spring, and are typically slow to rebreed. These animals should be supplemented with grain or high quality pasture to achieve a higher body condition score by fall.