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Checking Condition of Spring Calving Suckler Cows

23 December 2019

With winter rationing of cattle well underway, and calving just a couple of months away for some, the New Year is a good time to re-assess cow condition and make adjustments if necessary.  Effective feeding management of suckler cows can only be achieved if we have starting points of cow condition score and forage analysis to manage feeding, without either of these there are a lot of unknowns and guesswork.

The ideal body condition score (BCS) at calving, for a spring calving suckler is 2.5. This has been shown to improve fertility as cows tend to have a shorter interval to first heat, therefore get in calf sooner.  It has also been shown to minimise calving difficulties – there are problems at both extreme ends of the scale.  Thin cows (BCS <2) can suffer with slower calving, poor colostrum yields and weak calves.  Conversely overfat cows (BCS >4) lay down fat at the birth canal and can have metabolic issues at calving time if not managed well.

Condition scoring by eye is a good start but the best way to assess condition is by a laying a hand on. Two excellent sources to look at to get a guide of how to condition score can be found on QMS MooTube “The benefits of cow condition scoring part 1 and 2”

Practical Advice

If cows are too lean:

  • Keep them on ration to put on condition
  • Give them the best forage available
  • Avoid overloading with concentrates close to calving
  • Could she be carrying twins? Cows carrying twins need 25% more energy
  • Are there other feed issues such as bullying and access issues
  • Consider other veterinary issues – consult your vet for guidance

If cows are too fat:

  • They can still be losing a bit of weight up to calving – speak to a nutritionist for advice on a ration
  • Always ensure protein and mineral requirements are met when losing weight
  • Avoid ‘starvation’ diets for over fat cows they only cause more problems at calving time with metabolic disorders and poor colostrum production
  • Ideally take condition off fat cows gradually early in pregnancy

If possible take out over lean or over fat cows for separate management, this can be as simple as putting lean cows in with heifers or youngstock for extra feeding.

Always seek guidance from a nutritionist and your vet if you have concerns about cow condition.

Karen Stewart, 

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