body condition score (bcs), dairy cows, feeding programs
Changes in body weight are not a very good indicator of the nutritional status of dairy cows. For example, while the gut contents of a 1400 lb. dairy cow weigh approximately 200 lbs., the cow has a daily intake of nearly 100 lbs. of feed (fresh weight) and 160 to 240 lbs. of water (one gallon equals 8 lbs). In addition, the cow outputs over 120 lbs. of fresh manure and urine per day (NRC 2001), as well as 50 to 100-plus lbs. of milk. Thus, the ability to accurately depict actual changes in body mass via body weight measurements can be affected by daily fluctuations in body weight. A better method of evaluating the nutritional status of cows is through its body condition score (BCS). Body condition scoring, while subjective, is a useful and practical visual assessment tool of the nutritional status of cattle. High percentages of repeatability, both between measurements and between scorers, can be obtained with practice. The scoring system usually in use for dairy cattle is a 5-point scale, with 1 corresponding to an extremely thin cow, and 5 to a cow with excessive fat deposits (Wildman et al. 1982). Photos of and a text description for each body condition score are provided at the conclusion of this publication.
Garcia, Alvaro and Hippen, Arnold, "Feeding Dairy Cows for Body Condition Score" (2008). SDSU Extension Extra Archives. 137.