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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Getting to know the livestock

Thursday, January 7, 2010

I have always associated the New Year with the arrival of newborn calves, foals, lambs and piglets, even though they don't always arrive in January.

However, in January (and before breeding season starts), it is important to get to know your livestock.

When I say "get to know your livestock," I don't mean know their name, breed, etc., but know their body. More specifically, know their body condition score (BCS).

Body condition scoring is an important management practice that allows producers to optimize production, evaluate health and assess nutritional status of their livestock. It is done by careful visual examination of eight important anatomical points. These points include brisket (sternum), shoulder, ribs, loin, hooks, stifle, tail head and pins. At these points, you look for the amount of muscle present, skeletal features, and fat cover. When doing this, remember to consider the amount of gut fill the animal has, what stage of pregnancy it is in, amount of hair or wool present and muscling.

Beef cattle and horses are often given BCS between 1 and 9. A BCS of 1 is considered "Severely Emaciated" with no fat cover over the spine, ribs and tail head. In comparison, a score of 9 is considered "Extremely Fat." To obtain a BCS of 9, there must be no visible bone structure or definition in the muscles while the spine cannot be felt. A BCS of 5 is considered "Moderate or Average."

Being moderate means that there is just the right amount of fat cover over the shoulders, ribs, loin and tail head and only the last two ribs are visible.

Sheep and swine are often given BCS between 1 and 5. Animals given a score of 1 are considered "Very Thin." The backbone is very prominent and the loin muscle is very shallow when viewing animals with a BCS of 1. If there is no visible bone structure or definition of the muscles, then the animal is given the BCS of 5 and considered "Very Fat."

At this stage, the spine cannot be felt. A BCS of 3, or "Average," is given to an animal when they have the right amount of fat cover over the shoulder, ribs, loin and tail head. Their spinous processes and hips can be palpated with pressure, but are not visible.

Similar to sheep and swine, dairy cattle are given BCS ranging from 1 to 5. With dairy cattle, a BCS of 1 is associated with being "Very Thin." At this stage, there are deep indentations in the loin area, short ribs are very prominent and there is no discernible fatty tissue in the loin and pelvic area. When an animal is given a BCS of 5, it is considered "Very Fat." A BCS of 5 means that the animal has a smooth appearance due to the amount of fat cover over the spine and between the hooks and pins giving the back a bulged appearance. "Average" is the term given to animals who receive a BCS of 3. A BCS of 3 means the animals appears smooth over the spine, hooks and pins with a minor depression in the loin area. A moderate depression is also observed between the hooks and pins.

Before parturition, the animal should be gaining weight regardless of what their BCS is. Thinner animals will need to gain more weight and condition during this phase than animals that have BCS that are considered average of above. Therefore, to help animals that need the added push to get to higher BCS, it might be best to separate your animals into groups based on their BCS. By doing so, you are ensuring those that are in the lower BCS groups receive added nutrients to help raise their BCS to average.

For a more in-depth look at BCS, check out the Purdue publication, "Body Condition Scoring in Farm Animals, AS-550-W." You can locate it off of your county's Purdue Extension website or by contacting your local Purdue Extension Office at 448-9041 in Clay County or 812-829-5020 in Owen County. If you have any questions or concerns, I can be reached at either of the two numbers listed or via e-mail at smith535@purdue.edu. Please remember that it is always best to call the office as soon as possible to register for programs due to the limited space available in some programs.

Upcoming opportunities available to you through Purdue Extension include:

* Jan. 12 -- Purdue Ag Outlook Program, Montgomery County Fairgrounds, 8:30 a.m. Contact 765-364-6363 to register,

* Jan. 14 -- Land Lease Program with Clay, Owen, Sullivan and Vigo counties. Clay County Fairgrounds Exhibit Hall, 6:30-8:30 p.m.,

* Jan. 15 -- Estate and Family Business Planning, Sullivan County Fairgrounds, 8:30 a.m.-3:15 p.m. Cost varies. Contact 812-268-4332 to register by Jan. 12,

* Jan. 18 -- Office Closed,

* Jan. 19 -- Food Preservation Workshop, Putnam County Library, 6-8 p.m.,

* Jan. 20 -- Central Indiana Pork Conference, Rossville High School, 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Cost $20. Contact 765-659-6380 to register by Jan. 15,

* Jan. 21 -- Land Lease Program with Clay, Owen, Sullivan and Vigo counties. Wabash Valley Fairgrounds, 10 a.m.-noon,

* Jan. 28 -- Growing for Market II, Putnam and Monroei counties. Cost $50 per person for entire series to $15 per person for an individual session. Deadline to register is Jan. 22. Call 812-829-5020 for more information,

* Feb. 2 -- Master Gardener Program Series starts. Clay County Extension Office, 6-9 p.m. Cost $75. Call 448-9041 to register. Limited space available, and

* Feb. 9 -- Living on the Land Series starts. Putnam County Courthouse Annex. Cost $200, 6-9 p.m. Call 765-653-8411 to find out more information and to register before Feb. 2.