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Cattle Condition Score

Managing the health of your herd is an essential part of good cattle husbandry. The cattle industry uses a method of measurement called body condition scoring, or BCS, to help ranchers distinguish the differences of the cows in their herd. Numeric scores estimate body energy reserves, and this helps cattle owners determine the potential reproductive performance of the heifers in the herd. The BCS score also helps ranchers predict the percentage of viable calves they can expect each year, which is an important part of evaluating overall production.

When looking at the BCS scores of your herd, beef cattle experts in the industry recommend paying attention to the following key items:


Healthy bulls increase the likelihood of healthy calves, and that translates to a healthy herd. When bulls are out of the breeding pasture, their nutrition program goals should be to maintain a BCS of 6.0 to 6.5 by the time the breeding season begins each year. In the months prior to breeding, it’s important to adjust their feed and forage intake to increase, maintain or slow BCS as needed for each bull. During the breeding season, it’s important to continue monitoring the BCS of your bulls, maintaining the desired score through appropriate adjustments to their nutrition program.


A cow’s BCS is directly related to where she is in the breeding cycle. Maintaining a target score of 5.5 during the breeding season is the goal. If cows are noticeably thin while still with their calves, consider early weaning for increased weight gain. For cows who are not lactating, grazing on forage only or adding supplements to the forage can help increase their BCS before breeding. For younger cows that appear too thin in pastures where the nutrient quality is depleting, weaning calves early is important.

During weaning, cows weaning their first calves need extra attention. Early weaning and extra, high-quality forage may be necessary to keep their BCSs from dropping too low. Additional tips for maintaining good scores at important intervals include the following:

  • 45 days after weaning – Match cow type with appropriate feed resources to fatten cows that are too thin.
  • 90 days before calving – Separate thin cows from those in better condition and concentrate on balancing forage and feed to return to a healthy BCS.
  • Calving – Cows should be at a 6 before calving with no ribs showing, not fat in the tailhead or brisket and good muscle tone in the shoulders and hind quarters. This optimizes milk production and encourages a return to estrus. Modify your feeding program if your cows appear too thin before calving.
  • Breeding season – Cows should have a score of at least 5.5 prior to bulls being released in the pasture. Consider embryo transfer or artificial insemination to reduce the interval between postpartum and conception.

Choosing the right food at the right time is a big part of producing beef cattle with appropriate BCSs no matter the season. Grower feeds and finisher feeds help cows and bulls get where they need to be before breeding and harvesting. Starter feeds provide the extra nutrition calves need during the early days of growth and development. Mineral blocks and high energy foods help maintain body condition during months with extreme temperatures, and a variety of high-quality forages, like Bermuda grass, adds extra nutrition all year round.

Tractor Supply Co. has a large selection of feeds, forage and minerals to keep your cows and bulls healthy and maintaining proper the BCS.