Keeping an eye on body condition year-round is important to maintain good animal health and have them in the best shape for calving and mating next season. Cows at target body condition score (BCS) will have reduced illness, better fertility and optimal milk production.
Target BCS at calving are 5.0 for mature cows, and 5.5 for first and second calvers. From calving to mating, BCS should decrease no more than 1.0. No more than 15% of the herd should be below and no more than 15% should be above target.
Ideally, target BCS should be reached 1 month prior to calving - in late gestation the size of the foetus limits a cow's ability to eat enough to gain condition. Drying off all cows at a single specific date risks lighter animals not having enough time to gain condition. Consider staggering dry-off based on BCS and expected calving date - a skinnier cow will need a longer dry period than a fatter cow with the same expected calving date. Considering BCS earlier in summer will give animals the best chance of reaching targets.
Other options for managing lighter cow through summer include:
- Running lighter animals as a separate mob to the main herd. This reduces competition and enables preferential feeding. This strategy can also work for first and second calvers.
- Reduce milking frequency. Switching to once a day (OAD) or 3-in-2 allows for more energy to be put into maintaining or gaining BCS. This can be on a whole herd basis, or just lighter and younger animals. It can allow you to milk longer through the autumn.
- Supplementary feed. Consider the use of summer crops such as chicory. PKE and maize are also effective at lifting BCS. When transitioned and grown well, turnips can be of some use too, however, younger animals may find them hard to chew and become reluctant to eat them.
Our vets are trained in accurately assessing body condition and we offer routine herd body condition scoring. DairyNZ also has some great resources.