Because cows maintained with an ideal layer of fat cover will have higher reproductive efficiency, they positively impact an operation’s economics. Sorting and feeding groups based on body condition helps avoid over-feeding cows in adequate condition, particularly when only part of the herd needs extra feed.

As the cattle and feed grain markets change, the economic implications of maintaining the right body condition of cows also change. When calf prices move higher, the economic benefit of maintaining the right body condition score (BCS) is larger. Meanwhile, when feed costs are high, the cost of adding condition to cows will be higher.

Canadian cattle producers use a 5-point scale to accurately gage body condition

Canadian body condition score (BCS) 1.0 2.0 3.0 4.0 5.0
Brief description of cow Emaciated; starving and weak Thin Ideal Moderately fat Obese
American BCS equivalent 1 3 5 7 9
Learn more at
Body condition scoring is a low cost, hands-on method to determine the condition of an animal. By feeling the amount of fat cover on the cows’ short ribs, spine, hooks and pins and either side of the tail head, a producer can accurately determine the animals’ body condition score (BCS), then manage those animals appropriately.

Using the online productivity and profitability tool at, you can estimate the value of a weaned calf crop from cows at different body condition scores, and the economic cost and benefit for increasing cows from a BCS of 2.0 to a BCS of 3.0 (assuming a 1400 lb cow in mid gestation in thermoneutral* weather).

*During thermoneutral weather, cattle do not use extra energy to actively regulate their body temperature.

Calf prices tend to move lower throughout the fall run. The decline from August to the fall low ranged from 0.2% to 22% in 2012, 2014 and 2015; while prices in 2013 and 2014 moved contra-seasonally higher in the fall. Given the average Alberta calf price in August at $208/cwt, the prices used in the below estimation this fall range from $165/cwt to $205/cwt.

The estimated values of a weaned calf crop from two different hypothetical herds under different price scenarios are shown in Table 1 below.

  • Herd A = a 100-head cow herd in which 70 head are at BCS 3.0 and 30 head are at BCS 2.0
  • Herd B = a 100-head herd with all cows at BCS 3.0.

The difference in total value of weaned calves from the two herds indicates that by increasing the BCS of the 30 cows in Herd A from a BCS of 2.0 to a BCS of 3.0 can increase revenue by around $10,000.

Table 1. Estimated Value of Weaned Calves
Sale Price of Weaned Calves ($/lb) Value of Weaned Calves for this BCS
Herd A

30 head BCS=2 and 70 head BCS=3

Herd B

100 head BCS=3

30 head BCS=2 70 head BCS=3 Herd A Total Herd B
$2.05 $16,739 $66,667 $83,406 $95,239 $11,833
$1.95 $15,923 $63,415 $79,338 $90,593 $11,255
$1.85 $15,106 $60,163 $75,269 $85,948 $10,679
$1.75 $14,290 $56,911 $71,201 $81,302 $10,101
$1.65 $13,473 $53,659 $67,132 $76,656 $9,524

The extra feed costs to improve condition of the thin cows are estimated in Table 2 below. Extra feed cost estimates are based on a ration consisting of 75% alfalfa grass hay and 25% cereal straw over a 90-day feeding period.  Alfalfa grass hay prices are assumed at $0.06/lb ($120/ton), and cereal straw prices at $0.03/lb ($35/bale weighing about 1200 lbs).

As forages can vary wildly in nutritional quality from year to year and even within the same field, the results do not apply to all cow herds and feeding situations. It is important for producers to get feed tested to know its true quality and what the cows are actually getting from the feed.

Table 2. Extra Feed Costs to Improve Condition and Resulting Extra Value of Weaned Calf Crop
Sale Price of

Weaned Calves


Extra Feed Cost to Improve Condition

per Cow per Day

Extra Feed Cost to Improve Condition

per Cow per Feeding Period

Extra Value of Weaned Calf Crop Earned

per Cow per Day

Extra Value of Weaned Calf Crop Earned

per Cow per Feeding Period

$2.05 $0.36 $32.30 $1.08 $97.25
$1.95 $0.36 $32.30 $1.03 $92.51
$1.85 $0.36 $32.30 $0.98 $87.77
$1.75 $0.36 $32.30 $0.92 $83.02
$1.65 $0.36 $32.30 $0.87 $78.28

The results show that the extra feed costs to increase cows’ BCS from 2.0 to 3.0 at $32/cow are much lower than the extra value of the expected weaned calf crop ($87-97/cow). Even if feed prices are double the current levels with extra feed costs at $64/cow, the cost to improve condition is still lower than the extra value you can expect to get from that herd’s weaned calf crop.

Of course extra feed may not be the only cost to improving condition. Dividing the herd into different feeding groups could mean more labour, more fence to build and maintain, and extra management expenses. For a smaller cow herd, if the different groups can be fed at the same location side by side, the extra labour hours and fuel costs could be minimal. If the herd is so large that they are fed in multiple locations anyway, taking the time to group cattle based on BCS will allow for greater feeding management flexibility.

To get the most out of your future calf crops, consider feeling your cows’ fat cover whenever they’re processed to determine their actual BCS, making a note of their scores over time, and grouping and feeding cows accordingly to get and keep them in ideal condition.

To learn more about the value of your cows’ body condition, and to test out the online productivity and profitability tool, visit

This blog post was prepared by Canfax Research Services with support from the Knowledge Dissemination and Technology Transfer project funded by the Canadian Beef Cattle Check-off and Canada’s Beef Science Cluster.

Click here to subscribe to the BCRC Blog and receive email notifications when new content is posted.

The sharing or reprinting of BCRC Blog articles is welcome and encouraged. Please provide acknowledgement to the Beef Cattle Research Council, list the website address,, and let us know you chose to share the article by emailing us at

We welcome your questions, comments and suggestions. Contact us directly or generate public discussion by posting your thoughts below.

Source: Latest from Beef Cattle Research Council