Comparing body condition scoring systems for dairy cattle

18 Feb 2015

Take-home message: Alternative methods to assess body condition in Dairy cows: lessons from Switzerland confirm the accuracy of visual assessments over strict scoring systems. The scientist in this study sought to determine whether a strict decision tree body condition scoring system would be more accurate than the conventional visual assessment in dairy cattle. Body condition scoring is a widely used in dairy to assess fat reserves. This informs feeding management to prevent nutritional disorders, health risks or fertility problems. However, the process relies on the impressions of the assessor, which is subjective. Scientists at the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) in Frick, Switzerland, analysed two body condition scoring systems and evaluated the effect of considering the cow’s overall appearance into the assessment, 1111 Swiss Brown Cattle were used in the study. The independent, strict scoring system was created to follow the defined frames of the decision tree structure in a bid to reduce subjective influences. In contrast the conventional BCS system, had a more open approach, with the overall impression of the cow’s physical appearance also taken into account the final score. To verify the systems, they measured back fat thickness using ultrasound. The conventional system turned out to be the better predictor of back fat thickness, explaining 67.3% of the results. Whereas, the strict scoring system was only able to explain 47.3% of the back fat thickness results. Strictly following a decision tree when assessing body condition, can lead to errors in classification. The researchers said that this was because some body regions, especially the pin bones, were hard to score due to difficulties in assessing them. The authors suggested that the visual conventional system of measuring body condition score, gives good results even if different cattle types are considered. A view of the whole animals’ appearance is important. Isensee, A., Leiber, F., Bieber, A., Spengler, A., Ivemeyer, S., Maurer, V., & Klocke, P.(2014). Comparison of a classical with a highly formularized body condition scoring system for dairy cattle, 1971–1977. doi:10.1017/S175173111400188 Written by Joanne Stocks, University of Nottingham.