Spring-calving cows are now housed on the majority of suckler farms. As such, it is a good time to assess cows for body condition score (BCS) and group them for winter management. Outlined are five tips for condition-scoring cows.

1. How to condition-score cows?

When condition-scoring cows, handle animals along the ribs, around the tail head and pin bones. The idea is to press firmly against the skin with the hand to determine what level of flesh is present.

Cows are then scored on a scale of BCS 1, which is extremely thin, up to BCS 5, which is extremely fat. The target score is BCS 3.

This means cows should have a moderate cover of fat around the tail head and a smooth covering of flesh across the ribs. It should take firm pressure being applied to distinguish the ribs.

Condition-scoring is subjective. But if the same person scores all cows at housing and again mid-winter, the exercise has merits. Make allowances in herds with a big variation in cow type.

2. When to alter body condition

The time to alter cows in a thin condition, or overfat condition, is mid-gestation.This means in a herd of March-/April-calving cows, BCS should be altered from November to January.

Cows have an increasing nutritional requirement the closer they get to predicted calving date.

The time to alter cows in a thin condition, or overfat condition, is mid-gestation

Trying to alter condition at this point is too late.

3. Thin cows

After scoring, cows below BCS 2.5 could do with additional feeding. Pen these cows as a separate group and make sure all animals can access the feed face at the same time.

Weaning thin cows is also recommended just after housing time. Offer thin cows ad-lib access to good-quality silage until BCS is corrected. After this, they can rejoin the main herd, if necessary.

As a rule of thumb, every one unit increase in BCS is the equivalent of gaining 60kg to 80kg of liveweight, depending on mature cow size. This can take six to eight weeks to achieve.

4. Fat cows

Cows carrying too much condition need addressing to avoid calving issues. Again, pen these cows together for management.

Silage can then be restricted to alter body condition score. As with thin cows, reducing condition should be a gradual change carried out over a six- to eight-week period.

5. Cows in ideal condition

Most cows will be close to optimum condition score and can be managed accordingly on a maintenance diet.

Every few weeks, run the hands over these cows again and monitor the levels of flesh present. Most spring-calving cows should be fit to maintain condition on moderate quality silage.

If cows appear to be gaining flesh, restrict silage intake or offer lower quality fodder and vice versa using fodder saved from surplus grass on paddocks.

Read more

Editorial:CAP must not be used as a tool to engineer reduction in cattle numbers

ICMSA predicts base milk price in Ireland to rise to 40c/l