The drying off of cows is just around the corner on many farms, with body condition score (BCS) being key to setting cows up for spring 2022.
Cows should ideally be in a BCS of 3.0 at drying off, to ensure they calf between 3.0-3.5.
Failing to have cows in the correct BCS at calving may lead to issues such as difficult calving, fertility issues, ketosis and milk fever.
These issues add more stress onto yourself and increase the workload in what is an already busy time of the year.
Running cows through the crush now will allow you to identify cows that are not in the ideal BCS ahead of drying off.
Detecting cows in too low of a body condition score now will allow you to make decisions that will help them catch up.
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 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.
Cows that you determine are in too low of a BCS can be switched to once-a-day (OAD) milking, or dried off early to allow them to build condition through a longer dry period.
OAD milking reduces the energy demand for milk production placed on the cow, which allows the cow to put on condition rather than produce milk.
Feeding extra meal to cows is often a farmer’s first thought, but the only way to truly build condition is by reducing the energy output the cow.