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Cow condition and drying off

Cows that calve with a Body Condition Score (BCS) below 5.0 will produce less milk than their potential.


This is because there will not be enough stored fat reserves to meet the high demand for energy during the early stages of lactation. They will also take longer to start cycling following calving resulting in a later calving next season and further loss of production. It therefore makes good economic sense to plan for cows to reach target condition scores at least three to four weeks before they are due to calve – they will gain very little extra weight in those last few weeks of the dry period.

To achieve target condition scores, you must be able determine an individual cow’s condition score and calculate the average for your herd. You will need to monitor the change in average score and individual cow’s BCS through the autumn. This will allow you to plan for all cows to be dried off with sufficient time to regain their target BCS of 5.0 by the time they calve.

It is human nature to want to think our cows are looking great, but it is my observation that cows are often less well conditioned than the farmer believes. This means that many herds are calving at a less than optimum condition scores and so are failing to capitalise on the cow’s true potential – the economic cost is significant!

Phone the clinic if you would like us to make an independent assessment of your herd’s condition – we can also provide help in determining the feed requirements for cows to make their target body weights and the impact this will have on the overall feed budget for the farm.

Some points to note:

  • The range of condition scores in the herd is important, not just the average – don’t let a few fat cows mask the presence in the herd of a number of thin cows.
  • Cows with a BCS of 3.5 or less (and especially light young cows as they are still growing) will require a dry period of at least 120 days if they are to get close to the target 5.0 by calving.
  • Young cows are even more affected by light body condition so should ideally be fed at a rate that will ensure they reach a score of 5.5 by calving.
  • High genetic merit cows are unlikely to gain weight while lactating.
  • Dry cows must be fed like milkers to gain one Condition Score in 30 days.
  • Cows dried off and fed poor quality feed may have been better left in the herd where the feed quality (and quantity) may be better.
  • It is difficult to achieve weight gain during their final month of pregnancy.
  • Feeding cows to gain excess BCS (above 6.0) is not efficient. Separate the thin cows and fat cows and feed appropriately.

With the high payout for this season’s production, it will be tempting to milk longer but remember that this can have a significant impact on next season so it needs to be planned carefully.

Now is the time to act – make sure cows are dried off with enough time to gain the necessary weight by calving and that enough quality feed is budgeted for this requirement.