Calving may seem like a long way away for spring-calving suckler herds, but winter management decisions can have a big impact on the success of these enterprises.

Farmers are beginning to house stock for the winter months, and one of the key areas that suckler farmers need to look at is the Body Condition Score (BCS) of their cows.

According to Teagasc’s James Doran, spring-calving suckler cows should have a BCS of between 3.0-3.5 at housing and a BCS of 2.5 at calving next spring.

“Cows are in reasonably good condition after a good summer of grass growth and farmers may need to restrict the feed offered to over-conditioned cows to have them calving down at a BCS of 2.5 next spring,” he said.

Target Body Condition Scores for spring-calving suckler cows:
  • Housing: 3.0-3.5
  • At calving: 2.5
  • At turnout: 2.0+
  • Breeding: 2.0-2.5

Research from Teagasc shows that as BCS increases above moderate levels calving difficulty can increase, as over-conditioned cows have increased calving difficulty due to fat being deposited in the pelvic area.

It also shows that very thin cows have increased calving problems due to insufficient strength to withstand the birth process and giving birth to weak, non-vigorous calves.

Feeding over conditioned cows

Doran, a Teagasc Beef Advisor based in Co. Wexford, said that some farmers may need to restrict the quantity of silage offered to spring-calving cows this winter.

This is particularly the case, he said, when the silage quality of farm is above 70% DMD and some farmers may need to offer their cows straw to prevent them from getting over-fat prior to calving.

“In an ideal world, farmers could mix silage and straw in a diet feeder, but a lot of farmers give cows silage for two days in a row and then give them a bale of straw,” he said.

Teagasc research shows that when mature cows are in good condition (BCS 3.0) at the start of the winter their feed energy intake can be restricted so that some of the body reserves of fat are utilised to reduce the winter feed requirements.

This saving can result in a feed saving of about 1.0-1.5t of fresh weight grass silage, it shows.


Teagasc’s advice on getting restriction right:
  • When feed is restricted, farmers need to ensure that the feed space will allow all cows to eat at the same time.
  • If cows are below good BCS, they cannot be restricted and must be fed to requirements.
  • Always offer an appropriate dry cow mineral/vitamin mix.
  • When moderate to good quality silage (65-70DMD) is available, intake can be restricted to 30-35kg fresh silage prior to calving.
  • Good-quality straw plus 2-3kg of concentrates (including minerals and vitamins) is also suitable for dry cows in good body condition.