Body score your cows now
As we are heading into the winter feeding period, now would be a good time to body condition score (BCS) our cows. BCS is an indicator of the cow’s nutritional condition. BCS has direct effects on reproduction and calf performance.
BCS uses a numerical value to estimate the energy that is stored in fat reserves. Cows are judged on a scale from 1 to 9. Cows that are on the lower end (1, 2 or 3) of this scale are thin. Cows in a BCS 4, 5 or 6 are average, and cows on the upper end (7, 8 or 9) are fat. Ideally, mature cows need to be at a BCS of 5 at calving and breeding with replacement heifers at BCS 6.
Cows that are less than BCS 5 at breeding will take longer to return to estrus and conception rates will be lower. One study showed that it took 88 days for cows to return to estrus in a BCS 4 or lower compared to 60 days or less that have a BCS 5 or better. Likewise, conception rates were improved by 30 percent in cows that were BCS 5 or better. Having cows return to estrus sooner will allow for a tighter calving season and a more uniform calf crop. Additionally, if you are planning to use synchronization programs and AI, it is important to get cows in a BCS 5 so that the cows will respond to these programs.
Producers should observe cows throughout the year. BCS should be done at weaning, two or three months prior to calving, at calving and at other times throughout the year. These periodic checks allow the producer to make changes to improve BCS before calving. Timing is critical. Generally, it takes 75 to 90 lbs to increase up a score. For example, if a cow is at a BCS 3 and she needs to be up to a BCS 5 prior to calving in 120 days, she will need to gain at least 260 lbs because she has to gain weight for herself and for the developing calf. She would have to gain 2.2 lbs per day, which will take a lot of feed. Economically, it makes sense to try to maintain cows in a range of BCS 4 to 6 throughout the year.
In addition to reproduction, cows in a thin BCS will have lower milk production. This can be important, particularly in a newborn calf that needs an adequate amount of colostrum. Likely, cows in a thin condition will produce lighter, weaker calves.
As indicated, BCS is directly linked to reproduction and subsequent calf production. A cow should produce a calf every year to justify staying on the farm. Feed cows adequately to protect your investment.