Body condition scoring (BCS) is the management practice of assessing body reserves of individual animals by visual or tactile estimation of subcutaneous fat and muscle. Both high and low BCS can negatively impact milk production, disease, and reproduction. Visual or tactile estimation of subcutaneous fat reserves in dairy cattle relies on their body shape or thickness of fat layers and muscle on key areas of the body. Although manual BCS has proven beneficial, consistent qualitative scoring can be difficult to implement. The desirable BCS range for dairy cows varies within lactation and should be monitored at multiple time points throughout lactation for the most impact, a practice that can be hard to implement. However, a commercial automatic BCS camera is currently available for dairy cattle (DeLaval Body Condition Scoring, BCS DeLaval International AB, Tumba, Sweden). The objective of this study was to validate the implementation of an automated BCS system in a commercial setting and compare agreement of the automated body condition scores with conventional manual scoring. The study was conducted on a commercial farm in Indiana, USA, in April 2017. Three trained staff members scored 343 cows manually using a 1 to 5 BCS scale, with 0.25 increments. Pearson’s correlations (0.85, scorer 1 vs. 2; 0.87, scorer 2 vs. 3; and 0.86, scorer 1 vs. 3) and Cohen’s Kappa coefficients (0.62, scorer 1 vs. 2; 0.66, scorer 2 vs. 3; and 0.66, scorer 1 vs. 3) were calculated to assess interobserver reliability, with the correlations being 0.85, 0.87, and 0.86. The automated camera BCS scores were compared with the averaged manual scores. The mean BCS were 3.39 ± 0.32 and 3.27 ± 0.27 (mean ± SD) for manual and automatic camera scores, respectively. We found that the automated body condition scoring technology was strongly correlated with the manual scores, with a correlation of 0.78. The automated BCS camera system accuracy was equivalent to manual scoring, with a mean error of −0.1 BCS and within the acceptable manual error threshold of 0.25 BCS between BCS (3.00 to 3.75) but was less accurate for cows with high (> 3.75) or low (< 3.00) BCS scores compared to manual scorers. A Bland–Altman plot was constructed which demonstrated a bias in the high and low automated BCS scoring. The initial findings show that the BCS camera system provides accurate BCS between 3.00 to 3.75 but tends to be inaccurate at determining the magnitude of low and high BCS scores. However, the results are promising, as an automated system may encourage more producers to adopt BCS into their practices to detect early signs of BCS change for individual cattle. Future algorithm and software development is likely to increase the accuracy in automated BCS scoring.

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Published in Animals, v. 9, issue 6, 287, p. 1-9.

© 2019 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.

This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).

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This project was funded by DeLaval International AB (Tumba, Sweden) company through a research project partnership with the Dairy Science Program at the University of Kentucky.