A well-managed suckler cow can drop from having a body condition score (BCS) of 3.5 at housing to 2.75 at calving without having any adverse effects on the cow or calf, according to Teagasc’s James Keane.

This drop in body condition score is worth €40-50/cow, said the Teagasc Cattle Specialist, as it is the same as losing 50-60kg of body weight.

Keane said that the loss in body weight is worth in the region of 210kg of barley or up to 1.5t of a 67% DMD silage.

This is important, he said, as over 75% of the variable costs of keeping a suckler cow are attributed to feed costs.

Cows coming in in this condition [3.5-4] can afford to lose some condition in the run up to calving.

This means that they are fitter calving down and are less likely to have a difficult calving.

Body condition score

The body condition score of cows needs to be checked regularly from housing right through to calving, said the beef specialist.

Farmers need to be familiar with the 0-5 scoring process, where 0 is basically skin and bone to 5 which is grossly over-fat, he said.

The ideal condition score for a spring calving suckler cow at calving is 2.5-3 and cows which fall below this score need to be fed up.

He also said that cows which have a body condition score of greater that 3 should be slimmed down or restricted prior to calving.

Feeding the suckler cow

The amount of concentrates suckler cows eat over the winter period depends on the quality of forage offered to these cows, said Keane.

In the case of silage, the concentrate part of the diet increases as the quality of the silage decreases, he said, while the reverse is also true.

Straw can be used as a winter feed, but this will require a high level of concentrate supplementation to maintain spring-calving cows over the winter period, he said.

Cows which are fed straw ad-lib straw should be supplemented with 2-3kg of an 18% crude protein concentrate daily and thin cows should get an additional 1.5kg of this concentrate.

Farmers should also pay attention to mineral supplementation as it is essential in the last six weeks pre-calving for cow health and vitality.

A good mineral supplement will contain adequate amounts of Magnesium, Selenium, Iodine and Vitamin E, he said.

Silage DMD Feeding to maintain a spring-calving cow’s condition
  • 70% DMD Silage – Cows should be restricted to 85% of intake.
  • 65% DMD Silage – Spring-calving suckler cows should be fed to appetite.
  • 60% DMD Silage – Feed silage to appetite with 0.5kg of concentrate per day.
  • 55% DMD Silage – Feed silage to appetite with 1.0-1.5kg of concentrate per day.