Body condition scoring for dairy cattle

Written by xtalia farms.

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Body condition scoring is the visual evaluation of the amount of muscle and fat covering the bones of an animal. It is a very useful tool to monitor feeding management by providing a subjective estimate of the amount of muscle and subcutaneous fat between the pin bones and the tail head, over the hip and covering the lumbar vertebrae.

Body condition score can be assessed independently of live weight, gut fill and pregnancy status of the animal.

Why body condition scoring is important

Body condition score increases when energy intake exceeds energy output and decreases when energy output exceeds energy intake

Body condition scores can is based on a system ranging from score 1 to score 5. The spine is assessed over the lumbar vertebrae; The transverse processes are the horizontal parts of the lumber vertebrae; The pin bones are the bones on either side of the tail head.

Score 1.  Very poor Very thin

Score 2: Moderate Skeleton clearly visible

Score 3: Good Skeleton and covering are well balanced

Score 4: Fat There is excess fat covering

Score 5: Grossly fat or obese

Recommended condition scores

A farmer should target condition scores for cows and heifers are as follows: 

Situation Cows Heifers
Pre-calving 2.5-3 2.5-3
Pre-service 2-3 2-2.5
Drying off 2.5-3 2.5-3


If the average condition score is:

• Within the normal range, the cows are receiving sufficient energy in their ration

• High, there is a risk that feed intake will be depressed at the beginning of the next lactation, so

Milk production and body condition

Cow body condition has a large effect on milk production and fertility. The cow either stores body fat or mobilizes it, depending on the level and type of feed and the stage of lactation. Adequate body reserves enable high production peaks to be achieved, which contributes to high milk production for the whole lactation.

Body condition in early lactation

Fat cows at calving have an important source of energy at a time when they are trying to achieve peak milk production and their appetites have yet to reach 100%. Cows in higher condition at calving also have better fertility. Cows that are low in body condition at calving and are underfed in early lactation, have their peak milk production depressed and will partition less feed to milk and more towards body condition over the whole lactation. Rapid loss in body condition during early lactation can adversely affect cow performance, through metabolic problems and delayed conception.

Body condition in late lactation and the dry period

Milk production falls in late lactation because:

Lactation Curve

Milk Persistency curve