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Body Condition Scoring Dairy Cows Ahead of Drying off


Why carry out body condition scoring? In this article Nicholas McKenna, Dairy Specialist reviews a recent Let's Talk Dairy webinar and summarises the main points around why and how dairy cows should be body condition scored prior to calving. He recommends carrying this out at least 3 times a year

Why carry out body condition scoring?

The main reason for body condition scoring is to understand which cows in a herd are behind, on or ahead of target so they can be treated differently during the dry cow period in order for them to reach their target BCS at calving.

It is important to find the cows that are behind target, these cows, as a result of their BCS will more than likely have lower production and poorer fertility next year if BSC isn’t sorted during the dry period. Over conditioned cows also need to be managed differently as they are at a higher risk of suffering from metabolic issues such as milk fever, the goal is to have cows “fit, but not fat”

How to BCS your herd

When body condition scoring cows first “ensure your hand is flat and firm all the time when scoring, pressing down on the cow feeling for sharpness of bones or layers of fat”.

Body condition scoring works on a scale of 1-5 (1 being very thin, 5 being very fat), and the 3 areas to focus on when scoring cows are:

  • The pin bones.
  • The loin along the back bone.
  • The ribs.

Some examples of features to note are as follows:

  • Prominent pin bones, loin is sharp and ribs are sticking out and also sharp = BSC 2.5
  • Visually looks conditioned, pins well fleshed, loin and ribs are not sharp = BCS 3
  • Pins well fleshed and can just about feel the back bone and ribs = BCS 3.25

It is most important to score the cows in a crush as you need to put your hand on every cow, but a key tip is “Don’t cram the cows in, you need to give them space to stand naturally”.

BCS schedule and management

For optimal results and ease of cow management it is recommended to carry out body condition scoring a least 3 times/year:

  1. Pre-drying off: To group cows and help pick some cows that can be dried off early to improve BCS over dry period. Target BCS 2.75.
  2. Calving: To ensure cows ‘hit the ground running’ when they calve. Target BCS 3-3.25
  3. Pre-breeding: To ensure you are in control for breeding season and one less thing to cause a cow not to go in calf. Target BCS 3.

The most important thing about body condition scoring a herd is to do it in time, this helps you to react and make changes to improve BCS before the cows calve down.

If possible cows should be batched over the winter according to their BCS. Depending on silage quality, thin cows may need some extra supplementation, cows on target should get ad-lib silage and cows that are over-fat may need their silage restricted if silage DMD is >72.

Summary

  • Body condition score cows now.
    • Currently cows should have a BCS of 2.85 rising to 3.25 at calving.
  • Thin cows should be dried off 10 weeks before calving.
    • Low BCS at calving will lead to lower production and poorer fertility
  • On target cows should get 8 weeks dry and fed ad-lib 70 DMD silage.
  • Over target (‘fat’) cows may need their silage restricted for their first 6 weeks dry.

In a recent ‘Let’s Talk Dairy Webinar’ Stuart Childs was joined by Joe Patton (Teagasc Dairy Specialist), John McCabe (Dairy Advisor) and John Paul Murphy (Moorepark farm manager) to discuss body condition scoring cows, and what management is required for cows with different body condition scores (BCS).

If you would like more information on the topic of Body Condition Scoring dairy cows you can view this here webinar