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J Dairy Sci. 2009 Dec;92(12):5769-801. doi: 10.3168/jds.2009-2431.

Invited review: Body condition score and its association with dairy cow productivity, health, and welfare.

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DairyNZ Ltd, PO Box 3221, Hamilton, New Zealand.


The body condition score (BCS) of a dairy cow is an assessment of the proportion of body fat that it possesses, and it is recognized by animal scientists and producers as being an important factor in dairy cattle management. The scale used to measure BCS differs between countries, but low values always reflect emaciation and high values equate to obesity. The intercalving profile of BCS is a mirror image of the milk lactation profile. Cows lose condition for 50 to 100 d postcalving, because of homeorhetic changes that occur in the somatotropic axis and the sensitivity of peripheral tissues to insulin, and the upregulation of lipolytic pathways in adipose tissue. Management and feeding have little effect on early postcalving BCS loss (wk 1 to 4 postcalving) until the natural period of insulin resistance has passed and the somatotropic axis has recoupled. There is evidence, however, that management and diet can influence the timing of recoupling of the somatotropic axis and the sensitivity of peripheral tissues to insulin, and gene expression differences in adipose tissue 30 d in milk confirm an effect of energy intake on lipogenic enzymes. The BCS in which a cow calves, nadir BCS, and the amount of BCS she loses postcalving are associated with milk production, reproduction, and health. Body condition score may also be a valid indicator of animal welfare, but further research is required to determine the effect of BCS and BCS change on how a cow "feels." Although the actual strength of the association may vary, there is relative consistency in the associations among calving and nadir BCS, and BCS change on milk production, postpartum anestrous, the likelihood of a successful pregnancy and days open, the risk of uterine infection, and the risk of metabolic disorders. For many production and health variables, the association with BCS is nonlinear, with an optimum calving BCS of 3.0 to 3.25 (5-point scale); lower calving BCS is associated with reduced production and reproduction, whereas calving BCS >/=3.5 (5-point scale) is associated with a reduction in early lactation dry matter intake and milk production and an increased risk of metabolic disorders. Ongoing research into the automation of body condition scoring suggests that it is a likely candidate to be incorporated into decision support systems in the near future to aid producers in making operational and tactical decisions.

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