Learn To Score Body Condition

Learn to assign body condition scores for dairy cattle on a 5-point scale by evaluating specific areas of the pelvis and loin.
Learn To Score Body Condition - Videos

Instructors

Colostrum Dairy calves and heifers

More by Coleen M. Jones 

Heifer nutrition and management Effective fiber for dairy cows

More by Jud Heinrichs 

View Transcript

(bump and click)

- [Voiceover] The following is a step-by-step guide to help you learn to assign body condition scores for dairy cows based on the process described by Ferguson and coworkers in 1994.

Scores using this method will be able to assign body condition scores consistently and accurately.

This system will teach you to evaluate specific areas of the pelvis and loin in an orderly fashion.

Scores range from one to five in increments of .25.

The amount of body fat increases as you move up the scale from one to five.

This system concentrates on accurately assigning scores from 2.5 to 4.0.

Scores outside of this range are extreme and indicate serious problems.

For example, the difference between a 4.75 and a 5.0 is insignificant.

Both cows are seriously over conditioned and prone to the same metabolic problems.

We would not base management decisions on the differences between these scores.

The same is probably true of two cows scoring 1.5 and 1.75, both are seriously under conditioned.

Even with a structured system such as this, some cows will fall between the categories described.

In this case you must use your judgement to decide which score best fits each cow.

As you assign scores, it may be helpful to continue one step past the score you think the cow should receive.

This allows you a second opportunity to consider her final body condition score.

Before we learn the scoring process, let's review the anatomical areas that are evaluated when assigning body condition scores.

For dairy cows we focus on the pelvic area and the loin.

When viewed from the side, we will evaluate the visibility of the hooks, the pins, the thurl, and the short ribs.

From the rear of the cow, we again evaluate the hooks, the pins, the thurl, and the short ribs and we consider the sacral and tailhead ligaments.

The first decision you make will divide cows into two groups those with a body condition score less than or equal to three and those with a score greater than three.

From the side view, we evaluate the angle between the hooks and pins using the thurl as a reference point.

If the angle between the hooks and pins forms a V the cow will have a body condition score of three or less.

On the other hand, if the angle forms a U the cow's body condition score will be more than three.

This decision may be the most difficult one in the body condition scoring process, especially if the cow is near a score of 3.0 or 3.25.

If the difference between a U and a V is not clear move to the rear of the cow and observe the same angle between the hooks and pins.

It may also help to evaluate the angularity of the hooks and pins.

This cow has a V angle between the hooks and pins and the bones are clearly sharp and angular.

This kind of cow will score three or less.

This cow has a U angle between the hooks and pins and the bones are smooth and round, clearly covered in fat.

This cow will score above three.

Since this first decision can be a little difficult here are a few more examples.

I will show the cow, pause to give you time to decide, and then trace the angle and then provide the answer for each example.

This angle is a V.

Another V angle.

This cow has a little more condition and a U angle.

That's right, a V.

Again, a V.

The angle here is a U.

How bout one more?

Again, a U.

Hopefully, you're now a little more comfortable with the first step of this process.

Now, we'll work through the steps for each group of cows.

We'll start with the thinner group and refine your score of three or less.

From the back of the cow take a close look at the hip bones or hooks.

Are they round or angular?

If the hooks are rounded the cow receives a body condition score of 3.0.

If the hooks are angular the cow will receive a body condition score of 2.75 or less and we will move on to the next step.

But first, this is a good place to make sure you're headed down the right path.

If the decisions based on the hooks don't seem to fit the cow you're scoring try going through the steps for the cows with a U angle between the hooks and pins.

We'll get to those a little later in this presentation.

Before the checkpoint we had determined that the cow would score 2.75 or less.

Now, we'll refine that score by evaluating the pins.

Are they padded or angular?

If you can look at the pins and see that they have visible padding the cow will get a body condition score of 2.75.

If you don't see fat on the pins the cow will score below 2.75.

Now, let's refine that score of less than 2.75 by evaluating the pins more closely.

Can you feel a fat pad on the point of the pins?

If you can feel a fat pad on the point of the pins the cow will score 2.5.

If you cannot feel a fat pad the cow will score less than 2.5.

The final decision to refine your score of less than 2.5 requires a close look at the short ribs and spine.

Looking at the rear or top view of the cow find the bony ridges of the short ribs and estimate the distance that these ridges are easily seen from the tip of the short ribs to the spine.

Are the ridges visible half the distance, three-fourths of the distance, or more?

If the ridges of the short ribs can be seen about half the distance to the spine the cow's score is 2.25.

If the ridges can be seen about three-quarters of the distance to the spine the cow will score 2.0.

If the ridges of the short ribs can be seen more than three-quarters of the distance to the spine and the cow has a sawtooth appearance to her spine and prominent ribs she will score below 2.0.

We can stop scoring at this point because cows scored below 2.0 are severely thin and would be managed similarly regardless of their exact body condition score.

Now, let's go back to that very first decision where we separated cows based on the angle between their hooks and pins and work at refining scores greater than three.

To do this we start by evaluating the tailhead and sacral ligaments.

The tailhead ligament is found between the tailhead and the pins.

The sacral ligament is found between the spine and the hooks.

The visibility of these ligaments will help you score cows with more condition.

If both the sacral and the tailhead ligament are visible the cow will score 3.25.

If the sacral ligament is visible but the tailhead ligament is partly covered in fat the cow receives a score of 3.5.

With additional fat cover, the sacral ligament becomes less visible and the tailhead ligament is completely obscured by fat.

A cow like this scores 3.75.

If neither ligament is visible the cow will score 4.0 or more.

If you can clearly see the ligaments described here you may have assigned the cow to the wrong group at step one.

Try going through the steps for cows with a V angle between the hooks and pins that were discussed earlier in this presentation.

When we left off, we had a cow with a score of over four.

Let's refine that be evaluating the thurl, short ribs, pins, and hooks.

The score will increase as more of these parts are covered with fat.

The area between the hooks and pins is the first of these landmarks to fill in with fat so in all cows with a score over four the thurl area appears flat.

The short ribs get covered next.

If you can see the tips of individual bones in the short ribs, the cow gets a score of 4.0.

If the tips of individual bones in the short ribs are just barely visible the body condition score is 4.25.

As fat continues to accumulate, the tips of the short ribs can no longer be seen as individual bones and the pins are no longer visible.

Such a cow scores 4.5.

When the bones of the hooks become barely visible the body condition score is 4.75.

The highest score of 5.0 is assigned to cows that have a generous covering of fat on all the bones we've discussed.

These cows are well rounded.

And that's it.

You've now learned to score the body condition of dairy cows and are ready to put this scoring method into practice.

Thanks for watching.

Reviews

Only registered users can write reviews. Please, log in or register

Frequently Asked Questions

faq

What are the technical requirements for watching videos?
What devices and browsers are supported for watching videos?
Can a video be viewed multiple times?
Can I share a video with multiple people?
Is there closed captioning available for videos?
Are videos accessible for people who require special needs or services?
Who do I contact if I have a question about a specific video?