You've reached the Virginia Cooperative Extension Newsletter Archive. These files cover more than ten years of newsletters posted on our old website (through April/May 2009), and are provided for historical purposes only. As such, they may contain out-of-date references and broken links.

To see our latest newsletters and current information, visit our website at

Newsletter Archive index:

Virginia Cooperative Extension - Knowledge for the CommonWealth

When Was The Last Time You Saw A Fat Cow?

Dairy Pipeline: July 2007

M. Chase Scott
Extension Agent, Southwest Virginia
(276) 223-6040,

The merits of proper body condition relative to stage of lactation have long been known. But body condition scoring remains an underutilized measurement on many of today’s dairy operations. Body condition is the amount of body reserves (fat) that an animal is “carrying” on their back. Body condition score (BCS) is a numerical score that attempts to quantify the amount of fat that is visually evident on a cow. Obviously, the optimal/tolerable body condition score of dairy cattle shifts with stage of lactation.

Proper BCS should be considered when designing a herd’s feed ration. The “high stakes” of today’s dairy market (higher milk prices, high cost of replacements and higher feed prices) encourages a higher level of feed efficiency. For instance, lower producing cows or a herd with high average days in milk fed too high a level of energy may become too fat. It may be advantageous to feed these cows a ration that is more economical with a lower energy density. Dairy cattle that have a high body condition score have stored valuable energy in the form of body fat, rather than using that energy to produce more milk. The additional cost of fat cows is observed in the subsequent lactation. Cows that are too fat at parturition have more complications during calving and lower dry matter intake that predisposes the cow to increased occurrence of metabolic disorders such as fatty liver, ketosis, and displaced abomasums. All of these metabolic disorders insult the cow, ultimately decreasing total lactation yield and increasing cull rate.
Figure 1
Figure 1

Industry movement away from the use of rBST increases the importance of body condition scoring of cows. Recombinant BST promoted a higher level of milk production during later stages of lactation, which assisted producers in maintaining proper body condition on cows. Discuss the development of a BCS measuring and recording program with your herd veterinarian and nutritionist. Body condition score can easily be determined during vet herd checks and this information is valuable to the herd nutritionist during ration formulation. Figure 1 illustrates BCS at different points on the cow (vertebra, hook/pin bones and the tailhead) while Table 1 summarizes the recommended BCS at various stages of lactation.
Table 1
Table 1


Visit Virginia Cooperative Extension