Value of BCS
By Lindsay King
Thanks to technology, producers can develop better cattle in the lifetime of the animal rather than over the life span of the cattleman. This was the take-home lesson from the first of three innovation workshops sponsored by Neogen at the fifth-annual Angus Convention hosted Nov. 3-5, 2018, in Columbus, Ohio.
“Body condition scores are not rocket science, it is simply evaluating cattle on their visual appearance,” said Gary Felger, Neogen technical manager based out of Missouri. “We are just making a genetic or visual prediction about how much fat, or lack of fat, an animal has.”
The economic importance of body condition scores (BCS) stems from getting a calf on the ground every year. A high or low BCS can quickly increase the calving interval and sometimes prevents a female from conceiving entirely.
“If I have a thin cow at calving and it takes her 20 days longer to come back into heat, her calf is then 20 days younger at weaning,” Felger said to explain the lasting impact BCS has on the economics of a seedstock operation. “If that calf gains 2 pounds a day while eating grass it will weigh 40 pounds less and that will be at least $60 less in your pocket.”
Cattlemen should consider more than just nutrition when contemplating BCS. Age, milking ability and herd health also significantly affect the number, both positively and negatively.
“When people get to the age of 40, they typically start to lose muscle mass, and I believe that holds true for cattle also,” Felger said of the various factors influencing BCS. “But milking ability should also be considered. If we have a heavier milking cow, she will have great nutritional needs while she is nursing a calf and even when she is dry. That makes it easier for her BCS to be lower than we want it to be.”
On a scale of 1-9, it takes an estimated 80 pounds (lb.) to move up or down a BCS. On that scale, an ideal score for a first-calf heifer is a 6 and a cow should be a 5. Roughly 95% of all animals fall within the 3-7 range.
Felger suggested looking at five traits when scoring cattle: 1) ribs, 2) backbone, 3) hips, 4) brisket and flank fill, and 5) tailhead. Typically, slight visibility of a few ribs is not cause for concern but when the backbone protrudes and multiple ribs are visible, Felger gets worried.
“Cattle put fat on from the front of their body to the back and from the top down,” Felger said. “People see different things, so I usually have at least one other person out there to help me score cattle.”
The smartest thing cattlemen can do when addressing a low BCS is to separate thinner cattle. Economically, this will allow those animals to get the extra feed they need without over feeding the cattle with the ideal, or higher, BCS.
Ddee Haynes, Neogen territory manager based out of Oklahoma, reminded producers of the importance of the bull’s BCS. A younger bull should have a BCS of no less than a 6, while mature bulls can be a 5.
The best way to address a high or low BCS is through management with input from the genetic profile. Putting weight on an animal to increase their BCS is easier than taking weight off.
“You have to be careful with a cow that has a high BCS when she goes into labor, she will dump a lot of fat,” said John Paterson, Neogen territory manager based out of Montana. “You need to give her protein like distillers grain that degrades slowly in the rumen. The fat will come off a bit slower, and you won’t have as many problems with the reproductive track.”