A dairy animal changes in body condition throughout different periods of her life. Body condition scoring rates a cow on a ONE to FIVE scale. ONE means the cow is severely, detrimentally thin. FIVE means the cow is over conditioned to the point of impacting her health.
Your dairy animal should always be within a range of 2 to 4. [Note, some charts offer different numbering systems, so always refer comparatively] The link below gives a good description and pictures of how cows look at each number score, and advises on how cows should look in different situations and how to keep your cow at the weight you want her. Make sure to evaluate your cow frequently, especially around calving time.
A cow through the stages of life and lactation:
Young Rosalie around a year old (below). Notice she has good flesh, but is not “chunky”: you can see slight definition of the ribs, her rear leg shows clean lines. If you were showing Rosalie at a fair (this picture was taken after a local fair, which is why she is body clipped) you would probably see other calves in her class a lot thinner. The modern show ring makes heifers to look like miniature cows without udders. Our philosphy is that heifers need to grow and develop, so limiting their feed and keeping them “skinny” is not to their best advantage. The choice is yours as to how you want to raise your heifers.
Getting ready to calve. Notice extra flesh around the pin bones. She needs this extra energy and will “milk off” this fat in the next few months. The shadow in front on her pin bones highlights the area of “ligaments” which you can see are starting to soften up in preparation for calving, which is still a few days away.
Rosalie has freshened in this picture and is much thinner. She has milked off most of her extra fat, but has kept a little “cushioning” which is a good quality in a cow. A cow needs to maintain a certain amount of body condition to stay in optimum health. If too thin, a cow will more easily develop health and reproductive issues.
Rosalie is now at the end of her lactation. she has put on more flesh, maybe a little more than she should have at this point! Her udder has “shrunk” because she is not milking as much. Soon, she will go dry and should maintain this same condition throughout her dry period. She needs nutrients to feed her calf, so never “scrimp” on feeding a dry cow.
GOOD CONDITION FOR DAIRY CATTLE:
Good Condition for a bred heifer:
Good condition for two year olds:
Good condition for mature cows:
Late Lactation Condition:
Dry Cow Condition:
Cow that needs to go on a diet: