News & Advice

Two fat ladies

Mar 4, 2020 | Dairy, Dairy Animal Health & Welfare

Hanneke Officer, Veterinarian, Anexa Vets Gordonton

During the last month or so it’s been quite interesting to see cow condition in multiple herds while pregnancy scanning. Supplement feeding has become indispensable as grass growth is so dire due to the dry weather.

 So where does this leave the herd? 

Regardless of the predominant breed in the herd, the graph details the average change in Body Condition Scoring (BCS) seen throughout the year in New Zealand (pasture-based system).

At this time of year for spring calving herds, cows should be on a rising BCS plane to meet target BCS at calving (BCS 5.0 for mature cows and BCS 5.5 for 2 and 3-year-olds). Current feed situations, however, result in the prevention of BCS loss rather than encouraging BCS gain.

Recent on-farm BCS sessions have shown quite a variation in average scores, which is understandable given the variation in feed availability. However, this indicates that management to get cows to target BCS will also be different for each herd.

  • Do you know the average of your herd? 
  • Do you know how long it takes your cows to gain 1 BCS during the dry period? 

Accurately recording the BCS of individual cows is not as easy as it seems. ‘Casting your eye’ over a cow doesn’t do credit to her individual genetic makeup dictating where fat is stored and muscle grows most rapidly. The DairyNZ body condition scoring system, therefore, uses 8 parts of the cow for assessment which can then be averaged into an overall score. This way, all areas most commonly affected by condition loss or gain are assessed properly and incorporated in the final score. Interestingly, quite often there can be a full half score difference between the front half and the back half of a cow!

Assessing your own herd is hard to do due to subconscious bias created by the fact that you see your cows every day. You know their diet, milk production and possibly stage of gestation which can all impact on what you think she should be.

Getting an individual body condition score done for your herd now by an accredited BCS assessor will give you the following: 

  • Accurate BCS scores which can be used as a baseline for general condition changes for your herd throughout the season 
  • These scores can then be combined by your vet with known expected calving dates to create a recommended drying off list. This list will indicate which animals should be dried off when based on current BCS and due date 
  • Indication of the current nutritional input e.g. what does the feed on offer achieve for your cows given the production levels 
  • Cow health check and how this compares to national targets and averages 
  • Calibration of your own condition scoring skills or ‘eyeometer 

If you want to know more, please talk to your vet regarding options for your herd (there are many!). The cost is well worth it and even if you don’t want individual scores, there are options to assess your herd in general.

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