Body condition scoring

Body condition scoring provides a quick, easy, consistent way to visually assess the amount of fat and muscle covering the bones of a dairy cow, regardless of body size. It is not affected by gut fill or pregnancy as liveweight is. It involves assessing specific locations on the cow to determine how thin or fat the cow is at this point.

  • A cow with a BCS of 1 is considered extremely thin - the result of either severe under-feeding or disease
  • A cow with a BCS of 8 is considered extremely fat and is at risk of several metabolic diseases after calving.
A diagram showing the two key observations needed to condition score a cow.
Source: DA Body condition scoring handbook

A cow is biologically programmed to either store body fat or mobilise it, depending on the amount and type of feed eaten and the stage of lactation. This means a cow’s body condition changes over the lactation.

In early lactation, cows use body reserves to provide energy for milk production. In late lactation and during the dry period, cows tend to gain condition when intakes are generally exceed requirements for maintenance, lactation and pregnancy.

Body condition changes throughout lactation

Throughout lactation, the fat reserves of dairy cattle change.

A diagrammatic representation of the fat, muscle and bone for low and high body condition score cows.
Source: Dairy Cow Nutrition Manual (2015)

Cows mobilise tissue in early lactation to compensate for dry matter intakes that do not provide sufficient energy and protein for lactation. This tissue can contribute significant amounts of energy towards milk production. Fat reserves are subsequently replenished during mid and late lactation in preparation for the new calf.

Dairy Australia has developed several easy to use tools for measuring and managing body condition score. Learn more here.