How to manage body condition in overfit cows

Farmers are being advised to carefully manage cow body condition with anecdotal reports suggesting an increased number of caesarean sections due to overfit cows.

Scotland’s Farm Advisory Service (FAS) says strong grass growth has led to more overly fit cows and, as a result, more difficult calvings.

Robert Logan from SAC Consulting, part of Scotland’s Rural College, which delivers the FAS programme, says cows have come through the winter well, followed by a normal spring then tremendous grass growth.

See also: Why calving ease should be suckler herd priority

But effectively managing body conditioning scores will help mitigate the number of caesareans required.

Mr Logan outlines several ways farmers can manage overfit cows.

  • Delaying weaning will help reduce cow condition but calves will suffer on short swards, so creep feeding is essential
  • All cows must be weaned no later than three weeks pre-calving to ensure they produce sufficient colostrum 
  • Another option is to wean cows early, put their calves on to aftermaths and heavily graze dry cows on poor quality pastures. As a rough guide, stocking rates should be double normal numbers 
  • Try to force cows to have as much exercise as possible. For example, position water troughs away from feed supplies
  • In extreme cases, consider housing cows. Rations should supply about 70 MJ ME a cow/day containing at least 10% CP in the dry matter and minerals. As soon as cows have calved, they can be turned back outside to graze
  • In all cases, try to provide additional magnesium for the last month of pregnancy. This might be most easily supplied with a low-energy magnesium block/lick
  • In herds with a long calving period, it may be sensible to split cows up according to expected date of calving and, for example, house the early calvers and keep later calvers outside and delay weaning them
  • Spring calvers are likely to be much fitter than average at weaning this autumn
  • If a cow has a caesarean section, discuss with your vet the possibility of inducing calving, particularly where expected dates of calving are known 

Stage of lactation Target BCS in dairy cows

Stage of lactation

Body condition score

At calving


60 days post-calving

2.0 – 2.5

100 days before drying off

2.5 – 3.0

At drying off

2.5 – 3.0

Source: AHDB

Target body condition scores for beef cows and heifers


Spring calving

Autumn calving










Source: AHDB

How to body condition score cows

Condition score



Tail head – deep cavity with no fatty tissue under skin. Skin fairly supple, coat condition often rough

Loin – spine prominent and horizontal processes sharp

Ribs – sharp with no fat cover


Tail head – shallow cavity but pin bones prominent; some fat under skin. Skin supple

Loin – horizontal processes can be identified individually with ends rounded

Ribs – can be identified individually but feel rounded rather than sharp


Tail head – fat cover over whole area and skin smooth but pelvis can be felt, but only with firm pressure

Loin – end of horizontal process can only be felt with pressure; only slight depression in loin

Ribs – individual ribs can only be felt with firm pressure


Tail head – completely filled and folds and patches of fat evident

Loin – cannot feel processes and will have completely rounded appearance

Ribs – folds of fat developing over ribs


Tail head – almost buried in fatty tissue

Loin – pelvis impalpable even with firm pressure

Ribs – covered with thick layer of fat

Source: AHDB