The importance of an ideal body condition score for dry cows

By Eimear Murray, InTouch feeding specialist, Alltech Ireland

AgriLand has teamed up with Alltech to bring to you the Alltech dry cow action plan – an informative, eight-week series of articles to help you make the best decisions this dry cow period and take steps to ensuring a trouble-free spring and profitable lactation period in 2020.

For many years now, body condition score (BCS) has been recognised as a main management feature in a dairy cow’s life. No matter what dairy production system we operate in, BCS change is a cost to the system.

The reason for this is that achieving BCS uses more energy (4.5UFL/kg bodyweight), and invariably money, than is gained from its loss (3.5UFL/kg bodyweight). Hence, it can be a cost that goes unnoticed in the business, even outside the negative effects of having cows in lower BCS.

This time of year, when cows are being dried off in a spring-calving system, is crucial for BCS scoring. Having the cows in the right condition now will go a long way in the success and failure of the calving season.

On scale of one to five, cows should ideally be dried at BCS 3–3.25 and maintain that condition throughout the dry period. A higher BCS presents potential challenges, with fat cows being four to nine times more prone to metabolic issues. Fat cows post-calving can also have a 30% lower dry matter intake.

Numerous times a year

Last year I had a great example of the importance of BCS, regarding a 250-cow spring-calving Jersey cross Friesian herd in Meath.

In spring 2018, there were many milk fever cases and cows literally melting after calving, which would not be uncommon on a lot of farms around Ireland. Only getting to work with them in very late lactation, we batched cows in three groups at the end of lactation and the start of the dry period: thin; ideal; and fat.

The aim was that within the first few weeks of drying off, we would have 90% of cows in the “ideal” group. This herd calved down last spring (2019) with virtually no calving issues. Because of this, we have seen a higher in-calf rate this year.

The task this year was to start adjusting body condition earlier in lactation to avoid grouping later, in order to simplify and repeat in spring 2020.

Body condition should be carried out numerous times a year:

  • Six weeks pre-dry off;
  • At dry off;
  • 30 days pre-calving;
  • At calving;
  • 42 days in milk, at serving and in late lactation.

As per above, the recommend BCS of cows at drying off and calving is 3–3.25. What should this look like?

  1. The thurl (red) should be U-shaped;
  2. The hooks (yellow) should be rounded;
  3. The sacreal and tail head (green) ligaments should be visible.

To Find Out More

AgriLand has teamed up with Alltech to bring to you the Alltech dry cow action plan – an informative, eight-week series of articles to help you make the best decisions this dry cow period and take steps to ensuring a trouble-free spring and profitable lactation period in 2020.

Part 1: The importance of a successful dry cow programme
Part 2: Mineral nutrition: Getting it right this dry cow period

For more information, call Alltech on: 059-910-1320 to get in touch with an Alltech representative.

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