The Fallacy of Frame Score

There has been much ado over frame scores over the last few years. Lots of opinions over what a proper frame score is for a cow.

However, it needs to be noted that giving the frame score is not complete information. It’s not the whole story. And comparing cows based on frame score alone is not comparing apples to apples.

Again, there needs to be a clarification of terminology. Frame score is generally thought of as a height. But is that truly what it is?

Frame scores are an objective, numerical description of cattle skeletal size which reflect the growth pattern and potential mature size of an animal. Frame score values typically range from 2 to 9 and are calculated from hip height and age.” (

Everyone and their dog has a frame score chart. Because the American Angus Association has done such a great job marketing…and a stupid number of breeds have jumped on the “black” bandwagon, the American Angus chart is the most commonly used in the US that I know of.

There are bull and heifer/cow charts. They start at 5 months of age and go all the way to mature bulls and cows. The complete charts can be found here.

Here’s the problem. The Angus Association frame chart only does height. So a Frame 4 cow, at 48 months of age is 50 inches (hip height/rump height).

So when we say a Frame 4 cow, fine. But it doesn’t give us anything but her height. How much does she weigh?

According to the publication Frame Score and Weight of Cattle by the Texas Agricultural Extension Service, a Frame 4 mature cow will weigh 1,105 (body condition score 5). The last paragraph says that weight on mature cows varies 7-8 percent for each increment increase in body score, and sometimes up to 10% per increment due to “extremes in muscling.”

A little cow math here:

10% is easiest to work with, we’ll go with it. 10% of 1,105 is 110.5. So a cow in a condition score of 6.5 would be (110.5 lb x 1.5 = 165.75 + 1,105 =) 1,270.75 lb.

The average cow in the US weighs 1,300 lb. How many are 50 inches tall? Come to your own conclusions.

Inspiration for this post, two cows in the Cow Cow Ranch herd. One is a fullblood (Princess), one is a 3/4 (Chunk). Both are 43 inches tall–we’ll round that up to 43.1 so they can be on the frame score chart–making them a frame score 1, because they are both over 24 months. Pictures are difficult to really tell how different these cows are, but the truth really comes out in the linear measurements.

Princess in the foreground. Chunk back left; Luck, Chunk's full sister back right. Bred cows. Picture taken Feb 19, 2015.

Princess in the foreground. Chunk back left; Luck, Chunk’s full sister, Luck, back right. Bred cows. Picture taken Feb 19, 2015.

ID Field Docile Chute Doc BCS Rump Length Body Length Top Line Rump Width Shldr Width Heart Girth Flank Thurl Rump Height
Chunk 6.5 19 29 48 18.25 18.25 73 74 10 43
Princess 7 16 24.5 43 16.75 16.75 67.5 73 8 43


Rump Height is 43″ for both, but check out the length and width differences. Using this handy chart that I unabashedly snagged and saved when some posted it on Facebook the other day,

cattle weight by heart girth

Chunk would weigh 1,087 pounds. Princess would weigh 886. I could see Chunk as 1,087, Princess at 886 is a little tougher. I guess she could be. Chunk is just a lot bigger cow than Princess. I would have never put together they were the same height unless I had done the measurements myself.

So, there it is. This is why just frame score doesn’t give you much of anything. Cows of the same frame score can be very different. Frame score is simply incomplete information, of no real value without other data being included with it.



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