Body condition influences productivity, reproduction, health, and longevity. Over or under conditioned animals may result from nutritional deficiencies, nutritional excesses, health problems, or improper management. Regular evaluation of body condition scores can help troubleshoot problems and improve herd productivity and profitability. Body condition scoring of heifers is also recommended to help identify feeding and management problems.
The best way to monitor changes in body condition over a lactation or throughout the growth phase is to score cows and heifers regularly. A possible scoring schedule for cows includes observations at calving, 30 days after calving, first breeding, pregnancy check, 60 days before dry off, and dry off. For heifers, scoring at 6 months, pre-breeding, breeding, and pre-calving will provide useful information about condition at critical periods of development.
The Body Condition Scoring spreadsheet series provides a set of tools to evaluate body condition in cows and heifers. Options within the series provide flexibility for monitoring multiple or individual animals and plotting scores against current standards. This spreadsheet series is designed for use with a body condition scoring scale of 1 to 5 in 0.25-point increments.
This manual describes operating and interpretation procedures for the files in the series. Links to download the spreadsheets are provided below. Other materials on this web site provide instructions for body condition scoring, examples, and background information.
Body Condition Scoring - Groups of Animals
These spreadsheets provide a snapshot for comparing multiple cows or a group of heifers to recommended goals on a single measurement date.
- Evaluate animals and assign body condition scores (BCS).
- Open a new spreadsheet file. A dialog box will open automatically with a message about macros. Choose to "enable macros". If you choose "disable macros", the spreadsheets will not work properly. If this dialog box does not open, you can change the default setting, which is to disable macros. This allows you to choose whether or not to enable macros on a case-by-case basis (when you open the file). The exact instructions for how to do this vary depending on the version of Excel you are using. A web search for "enable macros in excel" should provide the instructions for your version.
- Click on the "Input" tab at the bottom of the window.
- Enter the measurement date and the farm name.
- Enter identification information and BCS for each animal. You can enter dry cows, just put the expected calving date in place of the actual calving date. Type over any example data present in the file. If you do not, the example will be included with your animals and will affect your results. Enter data in cells containing blue text. Do not enter anything in cells with black text; these are formulas and changing them may cause them to stop working. You must enter an ID name or number and a group name or number for each animal if you want to separate the results by group.
- As you enter data, animals that fall below recommended BCS for their age or stage of lactation will be marked with a red "X" in the "Too Thin" column, and animals that exceed the recommended BCS will be marked with an orange "X" in the "Too Fat" column. Check marked records for measurement accuracy, data entry error, or actual condition problems.
- Prepare graph and summary table using pre-programmed macros. Update the summary table by holding down "control" and typing "t". To display the graph correctly, hold down "control" and type "h". This command hides all the blank rows in the "Input" sheet.
- View the summary table and graph by clicking on the appropriate tabs at the bottom of the window. If the points for "Your Heifers" or "Your Cows" are off the scale or extremely unusual, see Step 7. You must hide blank rows to see an accurate graph.
- If you need to enter more data into the spreadsheet, reveal hidden rows by holding down "control" and typing "u".
- The spreadsheet is currently set up to handle a maximum of 1200 animals. Users can expand this number, but will have to make a few changes to maintain functionality. Complete instructions for adding rows are provided in the spreadsheet files.
- Recommendations for BCS can be viewed at the bottom of the Summary Table worksheet.
- We suggest saving each measurement date as a separate file for future reference. It also may be useful to include the measurement date in the file name to facilitate evaluating BCS over time.
- Any worksheet may be printed by choosing "print" from the file menu.
Body Condition Scoring - Individual Animals
These spreadsheets compare body condition scores of an individual cow over one lactation or an individual heifer from birth to first calving.
- Open a new spreadsheet file. A dialog box will open automatically with a message about macros. Choose to "enable macros". If you choose "disable macros", the spreadsheets will not work. For more about macros, see step 2 under the Body Condition Scoring - Groups of Animals instructions.
- Click on the "Input" tab at the bottom of the window.
- Enter the animal's identification information.
- Add body condition scores over time as they are taken.Type over any example data present in the file. If you do not, the example will be included with your animal and will affect your results. Enter data in cells containing blue text. Do not enter anything in cells with black text; these are formulas and changing them may cause them to stop working.
- Prepare data for graphing by hiding blank rows; hold down "control" and type "h".
- View graph by clicking on the "Graph" tab at the bottom of the window. If the line for "Your Cow" or "Your Heifer" shoots off the scale or has extreme curves in it, see Step 7 under the Body Condition Scoring - Groups of Animals instructions.
- Before entering new observations, all hidden rows must be revealed; hold down "control" and type "u".
- Any worksheet in the file can be printed by choosing "print" from the file menu.
Reading and Interpreting Results
All graphs show both recommended BCS and the actual BCS of animals entered in the spreadsheet. The bottom line (red) represents the minimum acceptable BCS. The middle line (blue) represents the goal, or most acceptable BCS, and the top line (orange) represents maximum acceptable BCS.
Keeping the majority of animals near the "goal" and 95% of the herd within the acceptable range is an achievable target. If more than 5% of the herd scores outside of the acceptable range (either above or below), there are likely problems that deserve immediate attention.
Over conditioned or fat cows are more susceptible to metabolic problems and more likely to experience calving difficulties. Overconditioning usually begins during the last three to four months of lactation when milk production has decreased, but grain and total nutrient levels have not been reduced accordingly. Other causes of overconditioning are prolonged dry periods or overfeeding during the dry period.
Under conditioned or thin cows frequently produce lower milk and milkfat yields as their low body reserves are quickly depleted and dietary energy and protein is often inadequate. Thin cows typically do not express estrus or conceive until they start to maintain or regain body weight. Feeding programs should be designed to provide adequate nutrition during early lactation to maintain milk production and increase body energy reserves. Recommended body condition scores for cows in various stages of lactation are shown in Table 1.
Table 1. Suggested Body Condition Scores for Cows by Stage of Lactation (days in milk, DIM).
|Stage of Lactation||DIM||BCS|
|Early Lactation||1 to 30||3.00||2.75||3.25|
|Peak Milk||31 to 100||2.75||2.50||3.00|
|Mid Lactation||101 to 200||3.00||2.75||3.25|
|Late Lactation||201 to 300||3.25||3.00||3.75|
|Dry Off||> 300||3.50||3.25||3.75|
|Dry||- 60 to -1||3.50||3.25||3.75|
Research has shown that heifers large enough to calve at 22 to 24 months of age with acceptable levels of milk production must be near or above average in size. Thin heifers may not grow rapidly enough to reach puberty by 13 to 15 months of age. They may be too small to calve at 22 to 24 months without difficulty or too thin to maintain normal milk production in their first lactation. On the other hand, fat heifers generally produce less milk, due to lower dry matter intake in early lactation or fattening during the critical pre-pubertal period. Recommended body condition scores for growing heifers are shown in Table 2.
Table 2. Suggested Body Condition Scores for Growing Heifers by Age in Months.
|0 to 4||2.25||2.00||2.50|
|4 to 10||2.50||2.25||2.75|
|Pre-Breeding||10 to 12||2.75||2.50||3.00|
|Breeding||12 to 15||3.00||2.50||3.25|
|Bred||15 to 20||3.25||3.00||3.50|
Regular observation of body condition scores can help evaluate the feeding program and other aspects of management and can flag problem situations, such as entire groups of animals that are under- or overconditioned.
Files in the Body Condition Scoring Series