Cows have entered the final third of their lactation and although many cows will continue to milk into early December, the importance of body condition score (BCS) should not be underestimated.

Ensuring cows are in the correct BCS at drying off is key for setting cows up for spring 2022.

Target body condition scores:

  • Cows should be at a BCS of 3.0-3.25 at drying off;
  • These animals should have a BCS score of 3.25 pre-calving; and
  • Cows should also have a score of 3.0 at calving.


You should access the cows in your herd and determine each cow’s current BCS. Ideally, cows should be 3.0-3.25 at drying off.

Detecting under-condition cows now, will help make it easier for them to ‘catch up’ – these cows can be given a longer dry period to help them build condition.

You could also consider switching these under-conditioned cows to once-a-day (OAD) milking, if cell counts allow.

The feeding of extra concentrates is often what many farmers will do to help build condition on cows, but this often does not work.

Increased concentrates many only lead the animal to increase milk production output and not help build body condition.

Failing to have cows in the correct condition at drying off and calving can have a negative impact on health, reproduction and production performance.

Having cows in the correct condition at calving also reduces the risk of calving difficulties and metabolic disorders.

Dry period

Once cows have been dried off, it is important to continue monitoring their BCS. Cows entering the dry period in the correct condition score can easily become over-conditioned.

Cows in too high of a BCS are more likely to suffer from post-partum disorders, including: fatty liver; milk fever; retained placenta; metritis; and ketosis.

After calving, these cows will excessively lose condition, resulting in poor expression of heats and increased embryo mortality.

This may have a major impact on further calving seasons and lead to increased culling of cows.

Assessing cows

When assessing a cow’s BCS, the key areas to check are the fat cover over the loin, plates and pin bones of the pelvis and tail areas using your hand.

Everyone will assign a different score to cows, that does not really matter once you are close. It is more important that you are consistent over the herd.

BCS on a five-point scale:

Score 1: Individual transverse processes are fairly sharp to the touch and there is no fat around the tail head. Hip bones, tail head and ribs are visually prominent;

Score 2: Transverse processes can be identified individually when touched, but feel rounded rather than sharp. There is some tissue cover around the tail head and over the hip bones. Individual ribs are no longer obvious;

Score 3: Transverse processes can only be felt with firm pressure. Areas either side of the tail head have a fat cover that is felt easily;

Score 4: Fat cover around the tail head is evident as slight ’rounds’, and is soft to touch. Transverse processes cannot be felt even with firm pressure. Folds of fat are developing over the ribs;

Score 5: Bone structure is no longer noticeable and the animal presents a ‘blocky’ appearance. Tail head and hip bones are almost completely buried in fat, and folds of fat are apparent over the ribs. Transverse processes are completely covered by fat, and the animal’s mobility is impaired.