Supplementing Body Condition Score

By Shelby Mettlen   |   Angus Beef Bulletin EXTRA

“The single hardest time to raise body condition score (BCS) in cows is right after calving,” Ted Perry told his audience at a Learning Lounge session inside the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) Trade Show in Nashville, Tenn., Feb. 3.

Perry, lead nutritionist for Purina’s Beef Technical Solutions division, added that having a cow at a BCS of 5 or 6 before calving is crucial if you want her to breed back. At a BCS of 4, she won’t have the body condition to make it happen. The best time to put weight on her is at weaning, he offered.

He also noted that if cows are at a 7 or 8 on pasture, which they may be on good pasture during the spring and summer, it’s no problem.

Feeding Mama to feed baby

Feeding cattle on range isn’t taboo, Perry pointed out. Done right, it can ensure your cows give birth to healthier, more vigorous calves. Supplementing cows on grass with a mineral or range supplement leads to improved weaning weights and BCS scores.

“Do we want a cow to lose weight during pregnancy?” he asked. Obviously, the answer is no. She should gain weight, about 200 pounds (lb.), due to calf weight and conceptus. However, instead of focusing on weight, Perry urged producers to focus on BCS.

You don’t want to keep her at a constant weight, he said. Keep her at a constant BCS of 6, ideally.

Perry also urged producers to consider the requirements of heifers sired from high-performance bulls.

“Put a high-powered bull on cows and those heifers will need more groceries because they have more growth in them,” he said.

Better genetics

Perry said today’s cow herd illustrates the best genetics the country has seen “as far as productivity, because we culled a bunch of bad cows.”

He’s referring to the drought that led cattlemen in the Southern Plains and Midwest to cull large numbers of cattle.

“We’ve got areas of Texas where they gave up a couple million cows,” he said. “Well, they didn’t cull their best ones.”

He continued, “We have the best genetics we’ve ever had. We’re going to have to feed them as better genetics than we’ve ever had.”

Inside out

What and how cattle are fed determine the quality of the end product; that’s no secret. Perry reminded producers that it’s not really the cattle being fed – it’s the rumen microbes.

“This is where the magic happens,” he said of the rumen.

Perry referred to cattle as “the ultimate recycling machines.”

“You take grass that has very little nutritional value and run it through a cow, and now you have beef,” he said. “That’s a pretty cool recycling program.”

Microbes have requirements as well, he pointed out. When you feed supplements, you’re really supplementing the microbes in the rumen.

Healthy cows mean healthy calves

Adequate water consumption is vital for cattle to maintain proper feed consumption, Perry said. Feed intake decreases with decreased water intake. If feed intake decreases, energy the cow is receiving decreases.

Perry pointed out that some cattlemen believe thinner cows lead to smaller calves. That’s true, by about 5 lb. However, assistance is required to pull about 23% of those, he said. Keep your cows at a greater BCS to ensure fewer assisted births.

There’s also a direct correlation between BCS and a cow’s colostrum value, Perry said. More energy means a higher BCS, which leads to a stronger immune system for the cow and calf. As quality of colostrum goes up, calf health goes up.

Generally, cattle exhibit higher productivity with supplementation, Perry concluded. For information on Purina’s supplemental products, visit

Editor’s Note: This article was written as part of Angus Media’s coverage of the 2017 Cattle Industry Convention. For further coverage, visit