Prepare Fall-Calving Cows for Calving

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Hopefully by now calves from fall-calving cows have been weaned. For this group of cows the key will be to increase body condition that was lost during lactation. The goal to increasing lost condition will be to assess their Body Condition Score (BCS). Body condition scores (BCS) describes the relative fatness or body condition of a cow on a nine-point scale. Body condition scoring is performed and evaluated with visual appraisal techniques and palpation for fat covering over the body. For most cows, a BCS of 5 is average and is a realistic target score. A BCS 1 cow is emaciated while a BCS 9 cow is obese. The BCS of the fall-calving herd should be assessed now (late summer). If possible thin cows, less than a BCS 4, should be separated from the herd and fed to gain more weight. This group of thin cows should have access to good quality pastures to help improve their condition. Good quality forages typically have greater than 50% Total Digestible Nutrients (TDN) and at least 7% Protein. If pasture quality is poor or unavailable, then supplemental feeding may be required. Additional energy is required for these thin cows to restore lost body condition. Once BCS is increased, it should be maintained around a BCS 5 before calving. Research indicates BCS at the time of calving has a large impact on subsequent rebreeding performance. Thin cows, BCS 3 or 4, have greater difficulty displaying their first heat by 80 days postpartum. This matters if we want to maintain a 365 day calving internal. For a cow to have a calf every year (365 days) she must be rebreed by 82 days post-calving. Other than delayed rebreeding, thin cows typically give birth to less thrifty calves, which is less than ideal!

Though subjective, Body Condition Scoring (BCS) is a useful tool for evaluating the fleshiness and body condition of the cow herd. Let BCS be your guide for feeding and managing fall-calving cows.

Contact your local County Livestock Agent for more information on feeding your cow herd and Body Condition Scoring.