We all do it, we drive by an animal that we can see from the road, and we mentally score it. Perhaps you don't have a numeric scoring guide down pat, but we still have our own systems. Maybe you say to yourself "That horse looks kinda thin", or "Well that cow hasn't missed too many meals..." or "Gee, those animals all look just right". But just like we do with everything else, we are sizing them up.
So what do I, as a farmer, see when I am "sizing up my cattle". Do I look for nice, fat cattle ? Surely a fat cow must be healthy and warm on these cold winter days, right? Well.. what I am finding in my few years of experience is a little to the contrary of that.
Cattle scoring actually has a "rubric" if you will, and each breed has its own sets of ideals. We raise black Angus, but Dairy animals have their own criteria. Here is a link to a dairy body conditioning document. http://www.uaex.edu/other_Areas/Publications/PDF/FSA-4008.pdf And here is one for Angus: http://www.cowbcs.info/photogallery.html
What stands out to me when comparing the two, aside from quantitary differences in their scale, is where the ideals are, compared to my own conceptions of what I thought was ideal. Our first year on the farm we kept the cattle entirely too fat for winter. The problem with this is, our calves that were growing in their mama's were also becoming fat as well, and that could lead to complications during birth. Thankfully our veterinarian was there to guide us along, and suggest that especially in the winter, that we keep them a little bit more "lean" than what we normally would.
They stay plenty warm with a beef score of 4.5 instead of 6.5 which is where we tended to have ours. So, when I am looking at my cattle everyday, I am always assessing their body score to see if we need to supplement their diet, cut back, or even maintain the status quo. But our number one goal is to have healthy cows who give birth with very little effort this spring to nice healthy calves! Because.. that is the whole point of this adventure we are on.. to grow our heard!
If you want a thorough (but not very exciting) video on how to score cattle, try this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OjbekWP1rHs for beef, or this one: Dairy Scoring for Dairy. Not sure why I didn't "name" the other links until the last one.. I"ll try to change that habit next blog! :)
Happy Scoring! :)