Body Condition Score and Your Cow Herd

June, 2016
Christa L. Kirby, UF/IFAS Manatee County Extension, Palmetto

Body condition scoring (BCS) can be a very useful, economical, and telling tool to use with your beef cattle herd. Many people have heard of BCS but are not familiar with the process of how to evaluate the cattle to come up with an accurate score. BCS is a visual evaluation of the amount of fat or excess flesh an animal is carrying. It is not an evaluation of the weight of an animal. Proper BCS evaluation can be an asset to the ranch in easily evaluating the nutritional supplementation of the herd. The higher the nutritional content of the herd, the higher the BCS. Inversely, the lower nutritional content of the herd, the lower the BCS.

BCS is the least expensive management tool an owner, ranch manager, or worker has. There is no charge for the tool. The only expense is the time it takes to learn how to properly evaluate cattle. There are six locations that evaluators should look at when assigning a BCS. You should look for the amount of flesh or fat around the back, tail head, pins, hooks or hips, ribs, and in the brisket area. Breed types can influence the fat deposition pattern. Beginners can start evaluating cattle and placing them in one of three categories: thin, moderate, or fat. This is an easier assessment while you are learning how to assign actual BCS. After you are comfortable with those assessments, you can start practicing placing cattle in an actual BCS. Scores range between 1 and 9 with 1 being extremely thin and 9 being severely obese. Thin assessed cattle traditionally range in BCS from 1-3, moderate from 4-6, and fat from 4-9. BCS can be very subjective. When two or more individuals are evaluating the same animal, the scores should be no more than 1 point difference from one another. The most common BCS in Florida range from 3-6.  Pregnancy and hair length can influence the visual evaluation of BCS.

BCS vary throughout the year. Scores are traditionally the highest in mid to late summer and the lowest late winter to early spring. Visual changes in BCS should be gradual over a time period of 120 days, rather than a rapid change over 45 days. To assist in the slower and more gradual BCS loss, ranchers can begin their supplementation program earlier, prior to seeing a BCS loss. Lower BCS in late summer on a ranch can be an indicator of issues on the ranch, such as low forage quality, stocking rate, parasite control, or mineral supplementation. Producers who have issues with herd showing different BCS within groups may consider regrouping cattle based on BCS to more effectively supplement the individual herds. By doing so they will be able to increase the BCS prior to calving.

BCS has been proven to have an economic impact on the cow herd. A typical production cycle is to rebreed or breed in early spring and wean in late summer. BCS is directly related to reproductive efficiency, performance, and weaning weight. Studies have shown that as the BCS increases, so does the conception rate, calving rate, and weaning weight of calves, leading to higher profits.

Every herd is going to experience a time of nutritional restrictions. The important thing for a rancher to know is how to recognize when it occurs and how to correct the restriction. The longer the restriction occurs, the more opportunity is available for reducing the economic impact of the herd. The nutritional availability of a herd is directly correlated with herd performance. 


Hersom, M., Thrift, T., and Yelich, J. 2015. “Implications of Cow Body Condition Score on Productivity.” UF/IFAS EDIS Publication, no. AN319.

Return to top