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Comparison of methods for monitoring the body condition of dairy cows

Bell, Matt J.; Maak, Mareike; Sorley, Marion; Proud, Robert

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Matt J. Bell

Mareike Maak

Marion Sorley

Robert Proud


Dairy cows are known to mobilize body fat to achieve their genetic potential for milk production, which can have a detrimental impact on the health, fertility and survival of the cow. Better monitoring of cows with poor body condition (low or high body fat) will lead to improvements in production efficiencies and less wasted resources when producing milk from dairy cows. The aim of this study was to compare different methods for monitoring the body condition (body fat) of dairy cows. The methods used to measure body condition were: ultrasound scanner, manual observation, and a still digital image of the cow. For comparison, each measure was expressed as a body condition score (BCS) on a scale of extremely thin (1) to very fat (5) in quarter intervals. A total of 209 cows at various stages of lactation were assessed. Lin’s concordance correlation coefficient (CCC) and the root mean square prediction error (RMSPE) were used to compare the accuracy of methods. The average BCS across cows was 2.10 for ultrasound, 2.76 for manual and 2.41 for digital methods. The study found that both manual (r = 0.790) and digital (r = 0.819) approaches for monitoring cow body condition were highly correlated with ultrasound BCS measurements. After adjusting correlation coefficients for prediction bias relative to a 45◦ line through the origin, the digital BCS had a higher CCC of 0.789 when compared to the ultrasound BCS than the manual BCS with a CCC of 0.592. The digital BCS also had a lower prediction error (RMSPE = 28.3%) when compared with ultrasound BCS than the manual BCS (RMSPE = 42.7%). The prediction error for digital and manual BCS methods were similar for cows with a BCS of 2.5 or more (RMSPE = 20.5 and 19.0%, respectively) but digital BCS was more accurate for cows of less than 2.5 BCS (RMSPE = 35.5 and 63.8%, respectively). Digital BCS can provide a more accurate assessment of cow body fat than manual BCS observations, with the added benefit of more automated and frequent monitoring potentially improving the welfare and sustainability of high production systems.


Bell, M. J., Maak, M., Sorley, M., & Proud, R. (2018). Comparison of methods for monitoring the body condition of dairy cows. Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems, 2, Article 80.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Nov 8, 2018
Online Publication Date Nov 26, 2018
Publication Date Nov 26, 2018
Deposit Date Nov 27, 2018
Publicly Available Date Nov 27, 2018
Journal Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems
Electronic ISSN 2571-581X
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 2
Article Number 80
Public URL
Publisher URL


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