Murray Grey Education Center

The Murray Grey Education Center is your online resource for educational materials relating to raising and breeding registered Murray Grey cattle. Information is updated often, so please check back to access new educational resources!

How To Tattoo

A properly applied tattoo will be legible for the entire life of the animal, ensuring that the animal’s identity is never lost.

Equipment Needed

  • Tattoo pliers
  • Tattoo number and letter digits
  • Rubbing Alcohol and a rag
  • Tattoo paste ink (green is best) and a toothbrush for application

Tattooing Procedure

Be sure that the animal is properly restrained in a squeeze chute. You may need to put a rope halter around the animal’s head and tie it so that the animal doesn’t move too much.

Determine which ear your herd will be tattooed in. All animals in your herd should be tattooed in the same ear. You may choose to tattoo in both ears. Stand behind the animal, facing in the direction the animal is facing, to determine which ear is right and which is left. In western states it is best to tattoo females in the left ear since the veterinarian will tattoo the right ear when heifers receive their Brucellosis vaccine.

Check your tattoo on a piece of paper or cardboard before you begin to ensure that the letters and numbers are in the correct placement and order.

Clean the ear of dirt and wax with the rubbing alcohol and rag.

Apply tattoo pliers with correct digits between the ribs of the ear. Squeeze firmly. 

Apply ink liberally to toothbrush and vigorously rub ink into the holes created by the tattoo pliers.

Change the tattoo digits to be prepared for the next calf.

Body Condition Scoring Beef Cattle

Body condition scoring (BCS) is a useful management tool for distinguishing differences in nutritional needs of beef cows in the herd. Ideal liveweight varies from cow to cow whereas ideal body condition (BCS 5-6) is the same for all cows. Also, body condition can be measured in the field without gathering or working cattle. The percentage of open cows, calving interval, and calf vigor at birth are all closely related to the body condition of cows both at calving and during the breeding season. Achieving a BCS of 5 or more before calving and throughout the production cycle is the key to a profitable cow-calf operation. Many producers waste profits by over-feeding cows in adequate condition when only part of the herd needs extra energy and supplementation. By sorting and feeding groups based on BCS, the economics of the operation improve.

How does Body Condition Scoring work? Body condition scores are numbers used to estimate energy reserves in the form of fat and muscle of beef cows. BCS ranges from 1 to 9, with a score of 1 being extremely thin and 9 being very obese. Cows at BCS 1 are in a life-threatening situation and need immediate attention. Cows that are over-conditioned (BCS 8-9) are the most costly to maintain. Areas such as the back, tail head, pins, hooks, ribs, and brisket of beef cattle can be used to determine BCS.

A cow in 'thin' condition (BCS 1-4) is angular and bony with minimal fat over the backbone, ribs, hooks, and pins. There is no visible fat around the tail head or brisket. A cow in 'ideal' condition (BCS 5-7) has a good overall appearance. A cow with a BCS of 5 has visible hips, although there is some fat over the hooks and pins and the backbone is no longer visible. Cows with BCS of 6 or 7 become fleshy and the ribs are no longer visible. There is also fat around the tail head and in the brisket. An over-conditioned cow (BCS 8-9) is smooth and boxy with bone structure hidden from sight or touch. She may have large protruding fat deposits (pones) around the tail head and on the pin bones. Be aware that gut fill due to rumen contents or pregnancy can change the appearance of moderately fleshy cows, especially over the ribs or in front of the hooks.

For more information about Body Condition Scoring visit Virginia Cooperative Extension’s website at


Image of a condition score 1 cow, emaciated.  Visible bone structures are the shoulder, ribs and back.  Hooks and pins are visible and sharp to the touch.  There are very little muscling or fat deposits.    

 Photo 1: BCS 1. Emaciated with muscle atrophy and no detectable fat. Tail head and ribs project predominantly. Animal physically weak.

    Image of a condition score 2 cow, very thin.  The spinous process should be easily seen and sharp to the touch.  There should be some muscling in the hindquarters but very little fat deposits.

 Photo 2: BCS 2. Poor condition with muscle atrophy and no detectable fat. Tail head and ribs prominent.

 Image of a condition score 3 cow, thin.  The foreribs remain noticeable.  The backbone is visible.  The spinous process should be able to be felt with little pressure and have a less pronounced intervening space.  Muscling is apparent.  Fat deposits are beginning to cover the loin, back and foreribs.  

 Photo 3: BCS 3. Thin condition. Slight muscle atrophy. All ribs visible. Very little detectable fat.


Photo 4 Photo 4: BCS 4. Borderline condition. Outline of spine slightly visible. Outline of 3 to 5 ribs visible. Some fat over ribs and hips.


Photo 5 Photo 5: BCS 5. Moderate, good overall appearance. Outline of spine no longer visible. Outline of 1-2 ribs visible. Fat over hips but still visible.


 Photo 6: BCS 6. High moderate condition. Ribs and spine no longer visible. Pressure applied to feel bone structure. Some fat in brisket and flanks.

 Ideal Body Condition Score

Photo 7 Photo 7: BCS 7. Good, fleshy appearance. Hips slightly visible but ribs and spine not visible. Fat in brisket and flanks with slight udder and tail head fat.


Photo 8 Photo 8: BCS 8. Fat, fleshy and overconditioned. Bone structure not visible. Large patchy fat deposits over ribs, around tail head and brisket.


Photo 9 Photo 9: BCS 9. Extremely fat, wasty and patchy. Mobility possibly impaired. Bone structure not visible. Extreme fat deposits over ribs, around tail head and brisket.




Problems associated with "thin" or "fat" body condition

Thin Condition BCS 1-4

Fat Condition BCS 8-9

1. Failure to cycle

1. Costly to maintain

2. Failure to conceive

2. Increased dystocia
(calving difficulty)

3. Increased calving interval

3. Impaired mobility

4. Increased days to estrus

4. Failure to cycle

5. Decreased calf vigor

5. Failure to conceive



Parts of a Cow


The Anatomy of a Cows Stomach

Inside a cow’s stomach region, there are 4 digestive departments:


1. The Rumen - this is the largest part and holds up to 50 gallons of partially digested food. This is where the 'cud' comes from. Good bacteria in the Rumen help soften and digest the cow’s food and provide protein for the cow.

2. The Reticulum - this part of the stomach is called the 'hardware' stomach. This is because if the cow eats something it should not have like a piece of fencing, it lodges here in the Reticulum. However, the contractions of the reticulum can force the object into the peritoneal cavity where it initiates inflammation. Nails and screws can even perforate the heart. The grass that has been eaten is also softened further in this stomach section and is formed into small wads of cud. Each cud returns to the cow’s mouth and is chewed 40 - 60 times and then swallowed properly.

3. The Omasum - this part of the stomach is a 'filter'. It filters through all the food the cow eats. The cud is also pressed and broken down further.

4. The Abomasum - this part of the stomach is like a human’s stomach and is connected to the intestines. Here, the food is finally digested by the cow’s stomach juices and essential nutrients that the cow needs are passed through the bloodstream. The rest is passed through to the intestines and produces a 'cow pie'.

American cuts of beef


The following is a list of American cuts of beef. Beef carcasses are split along the axis of symmetry into "halves", then across into front and back "quarters" (forequarters and hindquarters).

Forequarter cuts

  • The chuck is the source of bone-in chuck steaks and roasts (arm or blade), and boneless clod steaks and roasts, most commonly. The trimmings and some whole boneless chucks are ground for hamburgers.
  • The rib contains part of the short ribs, rib eye steaks, prime rib, and standing rib roasts.
  • The brisket is used for barbecue, corned beef and pastrami.
  • The foreshank or shank is used primarily for stews and soups; it is not usually served any other way due to it being the toughest of the cuts.
  • The plate is the other source of short ribs, used for pot roasting, and the outside skirt steak, which is used for fajitas. The remainder is usually ground, as it is typically a cheap, tough, and fatty meat.

Hindquarter cuts

  • The loin has two subprimals, or three if boneless:
    • the short loin, from which club, T-bone, and Porterhouse steaks are cut if bone-in, or strip loin (N.Y. strip) and filet mignon if boneless,
    • the sirloin, which is less tender than short loin, but more flavorful, and can be further divided into top sirloin and bottom sirloin (including tri-tip), and
    • the tenderloin, which is the most tender. It can be removed as a separate subprimal, and cut into fillets, tournedos or tenderloin steaks or roasts (such as for beef Wellington), or can be left on wedge or flat-bone sirloin and T-bone and Porterhouse loin steaks.
  • The round contains lean, moderately tough, lower fat (less marbling) cuts, which require moist cooking or lesser degrees of doneness. Some representative cuts are round steak, eye of round, top round and bottom round steaks and roasts.
  • The flank is used mostly for grinding, except for the long and flat flank steak, best known for use in London broil, and the inside skirt steak, also used for fajitas. Flank steaks were once one of the most affordable steaks, because they are substantially tougher than the more desirable loin and rib steaks. Many recipes for flank steak use marinades or moist cooking methods, such as braising, to improve the tenderness and flavor. This, in turn, increased the steaks' popularity; when combined with natural leanness, increased prices have resulted.