Time to focus on body condition score

Although many spring-calving dairy herds will continue to milk on into late November and early December, the importance of body condition score can not be underestimated.

One of the key components for setting your cows up for next spring is having them in the ideal body condition score (BCS). A target of 3.0-3.5 should be aimed for at drying off.

It’s important to remember that having your cows in the correct BCS next spring starts now. Failing to hit the targets outlined can have negative impacts on health, reproduction and production performance.

Measuring a cow’s BCS now will allow farmers to identify under-conditioned cows early. With this information, you can put a plan in place to ensure that cows are at the ideal BCS at calving.

Addressing BCS issues – whether they are over or under-conditioned cows – has been shown to reduce the incidence of calving difficulties and metabolic problems in the following spring.

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.

Feeding additional meal through the parlour may appear to be the simplest solution to address BCS; but the only way to truly build condition is to reduce the cow’s energy output, while maintaining energy intake.

Feeding additional concentrates – of course, it depends on the genetics in play – will lead the animal to partition more energy towards milk production rather than building body reserves.

Target body condition scores:
  • Cows should be at a BCS of 3.0-3.25 at drying off;
  • These animals should have a BCS score of 3.25 pre-calving;
  • Cows should also have a score of 3.0 at calving.

It’s important to remember that BCS scoring cows now – and using the relevant information correctly – will improve the fertility performance of your herd next spring.

It’s advisable to avoid over-conditioning cows during the dry period. Cows with a BCS of 4.0 or more have a high incidence of post-partum disorders, including: fatty liver; milk fever; retained placenta; metritis; and ketosis.

These cows will lose excessive condition after calving, resulting in: poor expression of oestrus; decreased conception rates; and increased incidence of embryonic mortality.

On the other side of the coin, however, cows that calve down too thin are unlikely to reach the target BCS at the start of breeding.

This results in a high proportion of non-cycling cows at mating start date, which will have a negative impact on submission and conception rates.

The BCS at first service is also critical; cows that are in poor condition (<2.5) during this period have a lower submission rate (58%). This increases to 72% when the condition score is improved to 2.75 and there is only a slight increase of 1% for cows with a condition score of 3.0.