Are my cows on the right track for breeding?

Approximately 700,000 dairy calves have been registered on Irish farms so far this year and the breeding season, to produce next spring’s calves, is fast approaching.

For herds planning a late January / early February calving start date, breeding will kick into gear in just four weeks time.

As it draws closer, dairy farmers need to be aware of the relationship between cow condition and mating success.

Research carried out by Teagasc shows that having cows in the ideal Body Condition Score (BCS) at mating can have a positive impact on breeding season success.

BCS is a body scoring system which applies a score of 1-5, 1 being very thin and 5 being overweight, and ideally dairy farmers should aim to have their cows in a BCS of 2.9 (range of 2.75-3.25) at mating.

Teagasc research shows that ‘thin cows’ or cows with a body condition score of <2.75 have lower three-week submission and six-week in-calf rates than cows with a BCS greater than 2.75.

It also identifies the relationship between BCS loss post-calving and six-week in-calf rate.

Cows that lose more than 0.5 of a BCS post-calving have an 8% lower six-week in-calf rate than cows that lose 0.5 or less.

Source: Teagasc
Source: Teagasc

Addressing thin cows in your herd

Given these results, it is vital to assess the BCS of each calved cow in your herd, to ensure that they are in the correct condition for the start of breeding.

According to Teagasc, identifying under-conditioned cows will allow time for any corrective action to be taken before the start of the breeding season.

Thin cows, it says, should be put on once-a-day milking as soon as possible and should be fed at the same rate as animals in the main herd.

Placing these cows on once-a-day milking will improve the energy balance of thin cows quite quickly, as it reduces the energy required for milk production and allows the cows to gain condition.

Simply feeding thin cows extra concentrates, it says, will likely result in a milk-volume response, but will not correct BCS in time for breeding.