Body condition score: ‘Act now’ to avoid ‘negative effects in 2020’

If you haven’t already done so, now is the time to body condition score (BCS) your herd and start thinking about your drying off plan, according to LIC systems manager in Ireland, John Tobin.

Explaining why, he said: “Although it has been common practice to feed cows during the dry period to gain weight, this can have its own problems.

“So, we need to look at getting the BCS correct at drying-off by acting now; ideally to reach a BCS of 3 at drying-off.

“Dry cows only put on fat when fed for condition and this fat melts off their back after calving – sometimes leading to metabolic problems in the over-fat cow.

If cows are thin in late lactation, it is best to try and regain some of that condition while the cow is still milking.

Where cows are under-conditioned, switching to once-a-day milking – where cell count permits – or drying off a couple of weeks early may provide the animal with an opportunity to build sufficient body reserves.

John also pointed out that management of “BCS should be an all-year round job, not just at drying off when it is often too late”.

Furthermore, he said: “If farmers are planning to milk on into the autumn/winter, they must have cows at a BCS of three or greater when they are drying off – because of the shorter dry period.

“If this target is not reached, there may be substantial negative effects in 2020.”

When drying-off this year, John advised farmers to address the following:
  • Forage quality and quantity;
  • Ensure BCS is 3 at drying-off;
  • Prioritise first-lactation cows;
  • Group cows according to BCS at housing.

Maiden Heifers

Finally, John referred to maiden heifers and the importance of meeting target live weights at 15 and 22 months old.

“Research shows heifers which reach target weights generally outperform under-target herd-mates in both milk performance and reproductive performance in the first two lactations.

“Remember, farmers who mate their maiden heifers 10 days earlier, do so because it takes first calvers 10 days longer to recover from calving to start off cycling; giving them a better chance in the herd,” concluded John.

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