The autumn-calving season is well underway on farms, but as we move towards the breeding season, it is important to complete these jobs now.

BCS in autumn-calving herds

As autumn-calving herds head towards the breeding season it is important to begin monitoring body condition score (BCS).

BCS on a five-point scale

When assessing a cow’s BCS, the key areas to check are the fat cover over the loin, plates and pin bones of the pelvis, and the tail areas using your hand.

Score 1: Individual transverse processes are fairly sharp to the touch and there is no fat around the tail head. Hip bones, tail head and ribs are visually prominent.

Score 2: Transverse processes can be identified individually when touched, but feel rounded rather than sharp. There is some tissue cover around the tail head and over the hip bones. Individual ribs are no longer obvious.

Score 3: Transverse processes can only be felt with firm pressure. Areas either side of the tail head have a fat cover that is felt easily.

Score 4: Fat cover around the tail head is evident as slight ’rounds’, and is soft to touch. Transverse processes cannot be felt even with firm pressure. Folds of fat are developing over the ribs.

Score 5: Bone structure is no longer noticeable and the animal presents a ‘blocky’ appearance. Tail head and hip bones are almost completely buried in fat, and folds of fat are apparent over the ribs. Transverse processes are completely covered by fat, and the animal’s mobility is impaired.

Autumn-calving cows that are in a condition score of 2.75 or less need to be monitored and their BCS increased before breeding begins.

Failure to do so will have a negative impact on their fertility performance during the breeding season.

Replacement heifers

Along with the BCS of cows, you need to check the weight of your youngstock, particularly your maiden heifers.

You need to determine if they are in the correct condition for breeding in the coming weeks/months.

According to the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) a Holstein replacement heifer should be between 360-400kg at the time she is served.

If your maiden heifers are not near this figure, you may need to increase intakes or feed concentrates.

Autumn calving

Ahead of the breeding season on autumn-calving farms it is important to ensure that all your vaccinations are up to date. This could include the bovine viral diarrhoea (BVD) vaccination.

You should also by now have selected the artificial insemination (AI) sires that you will be using during the breeding season. If you have not yet done so this should be on the list for the near future.


Autumn-calving herds tend to feed more concentrates to cows than their spring counterparts.

Concentrates are expensive so ensuring that cows are fed accurate amounts is important.

You should take the time to calibrate your parlour feeder to ensure that the correct amount of concentrates is being fed.

Some feeders can have a wide variation in the amount of concentrates that is actually being fed compared to what was thought was being fed.