A body condition score of 5 out of 10 ain't bad
Getting your herd to a body-condition score (BCS) of 5 at the start of calving requires a plan. It doesn't just happen!
November is the month to put your plan into action to ensure that your herd achieves maximum cow production and maintains or gains BCS through the rest of lactation.
Planning in terms of feed budgeting, the use of supplements and summer crops are key to ensuring that your herd arrives in the early autumn still producing well and in good condition.
Either you or someone independent, who doesn't see your herd everyday should be condition-scoring at least 70 cows from your herd at least every second month, preferably monthly from now on. Graph the results to see how you're tracking.
Key factors contributing to poor cow performance and BCS loss over the summer period are:
- Inadequate dry matter intake from poor pasture growth
- High pasture fibre levels limiting cow intake
- Pasture that is low in carbohydrate and protein, meaning cows have to mobilise body tissue to minimise shortfalls
Management over the summer period should aim to address these shortfalls. This usually involves the use of suitable supplements/summer crops and good pasture management.
Dairy NZ sponsored a regional initiative to measure BCS going into drying-off and up to calving this year. Totally Vets were directly involved with around 50 of the herds assessed. The starting BCS and that at calving were highly variable, the best herds achieving a BCS of 4.8-5.0 at calving with the bottom herds 3.7-4. It's not surprising that herds with lower starting BCS at the March/April visit ended up with the lower BCS at calving.
The lighter cows within these herds tended to gain much less in BCS over the dry period than cows that were dried off in good BCS. Herds with the greatest gain in BCS over late lactation and the dry period tended to be those fed a mixed diet of maize, PKE and grass.
Herds offered grass only and hay or grass silage tended to have poorer BCS gain and some herds lost BCS when grazed off farm on these feeds. In these cases, the total amount of feed offered was often adequate but the feed quality was such cows were not able to eat enough to generate enough energy for BCS gain.
Feed wastage was another factor that tended to limit BCS gain. Wastage of supplements fed on the ground can often reach 40-50% and is at least 20-25% under dry conditions. Wastage was often not factored into allocations for dry cows.
Better BCS at calving has lead to better BCS before mating and more cycling cows and better submission rates.