How Does Cow Body Condition Impact Reproductive Performance?

Body condition in beef cows can affect reproductive performance, overall productivity and longevity in the herd. These energy reserves can significantly impact specific stages of the production cycle. The amount of body fat or body condition a cow has at calving affects the postpartum to estrus interval and rebreeding success.

What Is Body Condition Scoring?

Body condition scoring (BCS) is an effective way to estimate the energy reserves of a cow. The most common BCS system for beef cattle is a scale of 1 to 9. 

A BCS of a 1 indicates an extremely thin cow while a BCS of 9 indicates a very fat cow. A BCS of 5 or 6 is optimal for beef cattle.

For the BCS to be most helpful, a producer must calibrate the BCS system under their own conditions.

Examples of BCS

Here are a few examples of what cows look like at different phases of BCS: 

BCS 4 

A cow on the thinner side where the 12th and 13th ribs are noticeable to the eye. The transverse spinous processes can be identified by the feel and are rounded, not sharp. There is straightness of the hindquarter muscling and it appears full. 

BCS 5 

A cow looks neither thin nor fat, but average. The 12th & 13th ribs are not noticeable to the eye unless the animal is shrunk. The transverse spinous processes can be felt with firm pressure and feel rounded but are not noticeable to the eye. The tail head area is fairly filled but not fat.


A fleshy looking cow with ribs fully covered to the eye. Firm pressure is required to feel the transverse processes. Hindquarters are plump and full, and there is noticeable sponginess around the tail head.

How Does a Lower Body Condition Score Affect Cows?

A BCS of 4 or lower results in lower reproductive performance and productivity. An increasing plane of nutrition for these cows will increase the probability of getting an animal pregnant. 

The most economical way to increase these animals' body condition is to separate them into their own group and feed them to reach the desired body condition.

When Is Body Condition Critical to the Production Cycle?

There are two key times at which body condition plays an integral role in the production cycle:

1. Calving

Body condition at calving has the greatest impact on a cow’s reproductive performance and her ability to stay in the herd. A low body condition score can lead to a longer postpartum interval to estrus and low pregnancy rates. 

Cows should be at least a BCS of 5 while first calf heifers should be at least a BCS of 6 to have the best possibility of rebreeding and having a calf every 365 days.

2. Breeding Season

A low body condition at breeding, like a low BCS at calving, can lead to lower reproductive performance and a cow's ability to stay in the herd. An increasing plane of nutrition and body condition for the low condition cows can increase the probability of getting pregnant.

Maintaining Body Condition and Overall Animal Health

Body condition is a great indicator of reproductive performance in beef cattle. Timing of evaluating cow/heifer body condition is critical in making management decisions to change animal body condition as needed and in the most economical manner.

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The above is provided for information purposes only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of any condition. This information does not cover all possible variables, conditions, reactions, or risks relating to any topic, medication, or product and should not be considered complete. Certain products or medications may have risks and you should always consult your local veterinarian concerning the treatment of your animals.

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