News & Advice

Fit for production?

Jul 28, 2023 | Dairy, Dairy Farm Reproduction

Hanneke Officer, Veterinarian and Health Hoof Advisor, Anexa Vet Services

Simply put, the most critical periods during the season are mating and calving, in that order. Without a successful mating, a cow will not calve the following season and therefore she won’t lactate which is what it’s all about after all.

On the other hand, the period between calving and mating is the most stressful period for a cow and is the time of greatest condition loss during the season. Very inconvenient when we’re already under time pressure to get a cow in calf again!


Why do cows lose condition between calving and mating?

When a cow calves, after a nice break of at least 60 days (dry period), she enters a period of rapidly increased energy demands due to:

  • Calving process
  • Milk production
  • Walking long distances
  • Competition with herd mates

And this is all on top of her daily maintenance requirements, which ensure she functions the way she should. We expect her to also put some energy aside for mating – this means growing follicles ready for conception with all hormonal changes accompanying this.

This energy must come from their daily feed intake. After calving, it takes time for a cow to be able to eat enough to fulfil her energy demands. This means she will first use up her body reserves of fat and muscle, leading to loss of condition. Typically, we see a Body Condition Score (BCS) loss of 1.0 between calving and mating. Now here’s the tough bit – especially in a year like we are having – if a cow doesn’t make it to target BCS of 5.0 at calving, she will be under BCS 4.0 at mating (assuming she loses the average 1 BCS).  A cow with BCS under 4.0 will likely have reduced cycling activity and will take longer to conceive, if she does at all. There’s a reason we vets keep going on about these target BCS scores at calving!


Of course, you can’t go back in time and change the BCS at calving now, so what are your options?

  1. Body condition score the herd or get your vet to identify any animals not at target or that are struggling. You can’t act if you don’t know what you are dealing with.
  2. Create a plan to curb weight loss for those light cows e.g., once a day milking (OAD), preferential feeding, adding high ME supplement. We have farm advisory vets with expertise in dairy cow nutrition who can help you develop targeted feed budgets.
  3. Check feed management: is the feed offered meeting the herd’s requirements and is intake as expected? If feeding enough, is the quality sufficient to provide the energy needed?
  4. Remember ketosis: a state of negative energy balance leading to a range of symptoms including reduction in milk production, gradual wasting, or even nervous signs. A simple blood test of 10 cows in the herd will give an indication of the degree of subclinical ketosis.

For further help or advice, please get in touch with your local Anexa clinic or check out the Dairy Reproduction pages on our website.

Other resources you might find helpful:

Body Condition Scoring

Body Condition Scoring Cows – why, when, where & how to make it really count

Options for maintaining cow condition when pasture growth is limited before mating


individual body condition scoring a dairy cow
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