Successfully managing cow body condition score (BCS) at key times of the year will have a huge influence on the overall success of your suckler system.

On a scale of 1 to 5, BCS is an estimate of the cover of flesh on the animal, with 1 being completely emaciated and 5 being grossly over-fat.

A cows BCS is assessed at three areas of the animal: the ribs, the loin (short ribs, just in front of the hip) and the tail head.

Ideally, spring-calving cows would be housed for winter at a BCS of 3 and allowed to gradually lose half a BCS (roughly 35kg to 40kg) through winter. For the final 30 days pre-calving, a BCS of 2.5 should be maintained.

Post-calving, no matter how good the management is, cows will lose some condition.

The key here is to minimise this, so that cows are heading into the breeding season with a minimum BCS of 2.25.

While breeding may seem a long way away with the focus very much on calving at the moment, if you are striving to reduce your calving spread for next year, managing cows over the coming weeks will have a big bearing on the success of the breeding season.

Late January/early February calving and late-March turnout

Issues can arise with this system on farms where turnout does not take place until mid- to late March, six to eight weeks post-calving. This is the period of greatest nutritional demand of the entire year for the cow as she hits peak milk yield. A rapid change in diet at this point can affect the onset of cyclic activity.

Meal feeding should not be necessary at grass but 1kg/day could be fed for the first week to ease the transition

Managing the diet of the cow while indoors is very important. In most cases, concentrate feeding will be required. Where silage quality is good, (70DMD+), 1kg to 2kg of concentrate/day should be sufficient. For silage 65DMD to 69DMD this will need to increase to 3kg or 4kg concentrate/day – the higher end where cows are in poorer condition.

Try to have these cows out to grass at least three weeks prior to the start of breeding to allow them time to adjust from one diet to the other. Meal feeding should not be necessary at grass but 1kg/day could be fed for the first week to ease the transition, especially where high levels of meal feeding were taking place indoors.

Mid-March calving and early April turnout

For this system of production, post-calving you are looking at three to four weeks indoors prior to turnout. Obviously, we want to minimise this as much as possible where ground conditions and weather allows.

Concentrate feeding rates should be scaled back by 1kg/head/day from what is outlined for the early-spring calving cow example. This is because turnout will occur prior to the period of peak nutritional demand.

Cows calving in too good or too poor BCS

This spring, farmers and vets are reporting cows in better BCS compared to recent years due to both the increased quality and, more so, quantity of silage in yards this winter. In some instances, this can lead to increased calving difficulty.

For cows in the final weeks of pregnancy, restricting feed is not recommended as it can have a negative effect on the cow’s ability to calve. The best option here is to offer cows as much room as possible, to try and get them more fit for calving. This is especially true for cows have been in well-stocked pens all winter.

If a difficult calving was experienced, get cows out to grass as soon as possible

Once calved, while these cows are in good condition, avoid excessive loss in BCS, as this delays the onset of cyclic activity. If a difficult calving was experienced, get cows out to grass as soon as possible. It may be worth scanning cows that have had a difficult calving before the breeding season to they are correct for breeding.

For cows calving in too low BCS, the advice is similar with trying to get to grass as soon as possible post-calving. While the cow is indoors, feed the best available silage on farm and offer 1kg to 2kg concentrate supplementation/day. Where silage quality is poor or where turnout will not take place in the first five weeks post-calving, concentrate supplementation will need to be offered at 3kg to 4kg/day.