Every dairy producer has cattle that are too
fat or too thin for their stage of lactation. Failure to recognize
these cows and take action costs dearly for disease treatments,
lost milk production, and decreased fertility. This Factsheet
describes how to score the body condition of cows and compare
them to normal scores for various stages of lactation. The system
described here was developed by E.E. Wildman, University of Vermont.
Body condition is a reflection of the body fat
reserves carried by the animal. These reserves can be used by
the cow in periods when she is unable to eat enough to satisfy
her energy needs. In high producing cows, this normally happens
during early lactation, but it may also happen when cows get sick,
are fed poor quality feeds, or feed intake is restricted. After
a period of weight loss, cows should be fed more than their requirements
to restore normal body condition.
Cows should be scored both by looking at and
handling the backbone, loin and rump areas. Since the pin bone,
hip bone, the top of the backbone and ends of the short ribs do
not have muscle tissue covering them, any covering you see or
feel is the combination of skin and fat deposits. (See Figure
Assessing condition by handling is quite easy.
Press the fingertips against the backbone, pin bone and hip bone.
Grip the loin of the cow where the short ribs project from the
backbone, just ahead of the hips, with your fingers on top of
the loin and the thumb curved around the ends of the short ribs.
Fingertip pressure will provide a good indication of the amount
of fat cover.
Condition scoring should be done by the person
responsible for feeding the herd. To keep the scores "standardized",
regularly refer back to the standards outlined in this Factsheet,
and discuss condition scores with your nutrition advisors and
Cows should be scored regularly to reflect changes
in fat reserves in each stage of lactation. Ideally all cows should
be scored at the beginning and end of their dry period and at
least 4 or 5 times during lactation. Scores should be evaluated
based on stage of lactation (days in milk or days dry). In more
sophisticated systems such as computerized records, the days to
next calving should also be monitored. One convenient way to do
this is to record condition scores on the edge of the CanWest
DHI herd report after each test day. This provides a single reference
to cow identification, days in milk, production level and condition
score, thereby including all the information needed to set feeding
levels for individual cows. To analyze condition scores for a
herd, or for a cow throughout a lactation, the individual scores
can be plotted on the chart on the back page of this Factsheet.
Notations such as lactation number, production level or health
problems can be added above plotted points to improve interpretation
of the chart.
Condition scores range from 1, a very thin cow
with no fat reserves, to 5, a severely overconditioned cow. Ideal
condition scores fall in the range of 3.0-4.0 at dry off and calving
and 2.5-3.5, at peak lactation, with no cows changing by more
than 1 condition score class over any lactation period. Refer
to OMAF Factsheet Using Body Condition Scoring in Dairy Herd
Management, Order No. 94-053 for more information on interpreting
herd scores. Descriptions of the 5 condition score classes follow.
With practice, "hands on" scoring of the herd
takes only 10-15 seconds per cow and provides a wealth of information.
To monitor the results of your feeding and management program
put a regular body condition scoring routine to work in your herd.
Figure 1. Only skin and fat cover the backbone and ends of the
short ribs, making these ideal locations to assess body condition.
Condition Score 1
This cow is emaciated. The ends of the short ribs are sharp to the
touch and together give a prominent shelf-like appearance to the
loin. The individual vertebrae (spinous processes) of the backbone
are prominent. The hook and pin bones are sharply defined. The
thurl region and thighs are sunken and in-curving. The anal area
has receded and the vulva appears prominent.
Condition Score 2
This cow is thin. The ends of the short ribs can be felt but they
and the individual vertebrae are less visibly prominent. The short
ribs do not form as obvious an overhang or shelf effect. The hook
and pin bones are prominent but the depression of the thurl region
between them is less severe. The area around the anus is less
sunken and the vulva less prominent.
Condition Score 3
A cow in average body condition. The short ribs can be felt by applying
slight pressure. The overhanging shelflike appearance of these
bones is gone. The backbone is a rounded ridge and hook and pin
bones are round and smoothed over. The anal area is filled out
but there is no evidence of fat deposit.
Condition Score 4
A cow in heavy condition. Individual short ribs
can be felt only when firm pressure is applied. Together they
are rounded over with no shelf effect. The ridge of the backbone
is flattening over the loin and rump areas and rounded over the
chine. The hook bones are smoothed over and the span between the
hook bones over the backbone is flat. Area around the pin bones
is beginning to show patches of fat deposit.
Condition Score 5
A fat cow. The bone structure of the topline, hook and pin bones
and the short ribs is not visible. Fat deposits around the tailbone
and over the ribs are obvious. The thighs curve out, the brisket
and flanks are heavy and the chine very round.