Ahead of drying off, it is important to determine the body condition score (BCS) of spring-calving cows.

To ensure that cows are in the correct BCS ahead of drying-off, farmers need to assess their herds.

Ideally, cows need to be in a BCS of 3.0-3.25 at drying-off, so they should be fairly close to that score now.

Cows with a BCS that is too low may need to be dried off earlier, but these cows will only be detected if they are scored.


Detecting cows that are now in a BCS that is too low will help in a number of ways, one of which being that there is now time to try and let them catch up.

Many farmers’ first thought will be to increase the amount of feed they are being offered/fed, but in reality the only way to add condition is to reduce the energy demand on the cow.

This means that if milk yields and cell counts allow, once-a-day (OAD) milking could be an option.

Another option is to dry this cows off early and allow them to build condition, which is likely going to be the choice of most farmers.

Once a cow is no longer producing milk she should increase condition. However, if you are doing this you need to be careful.

These cows should be kept separate from other cows and monitored closely, as cows can become over conditioned which can lead to issues at calving.

BCS on a five-point scale:

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.

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.