Critical to pay attention to cows' body condition score

Dr Dan Ryan

We are now in the middle of the spring calving season and while there is a lull in the number of calvings, it is now time to give consideration to the breeding season ahead. Events taking place on your farm now will impact on pregnancy rate to services.

When cows come into heat, an egg is released 24 to 36 hours later. This egg is recruited six to eight weeks earlier. During this window of recruitment the egg is nourished in its shell (follicle). Bearing this in mind, farmers should remember that pre-breeding management of cows is critical to a successful breeding season.

The markers for breeding are put in place six to eight weeks pre-calving. This is where body condition score must be close to 3 on a scale of 1 to 5 at the time of drying off and be maintained here until cows calve.

The dry period is the one of greatest neglect, when cows are dried off, put to one side, and forgotten. During the dry cow period, cows need good quality silage that will maintain body condition. A dry cow mineral specific to your herd should be added to the diet on a daily basis. If silage quality is poor or limiting, move in with a concentrate supplement that will maintain the body condition and health of your herd.

Management during the dry-cow period also covers housing. The use of stand-off pads has resulted in a number of horror stories. There is a greater maintenance cost for the cow when kept on a stand-off pad during cold and wet weather.

These pads need proper maintenance if issues such as E-Coli, mastitis, neospora and lameness are to be avoided. Unfortunately, the downturn in the building industry has meant a shortage of bark.

Many of the current issues with retained after-birth, uterine infections and milk fever are associated with dry-cow management. The primary focus here should be on a diet balanced to the cow's requirements and maintenance of body condition score.

Because of the unusually long, harsh winter, grass availability and quality is very poor. Cows will not meet their requirements post-calving from grass and silage in the current climatic conditions.

Get the latest news from the Farming Independent team 3 times a week.

The primary focus post-calving has to be an allowance for a body condition score loss from 3 to 2.5 over the first six weeks post-calving. A balanced concentrate supplement must be added to the diet of the cows now. This will meet the demands for milk production but also set up the cow for successful reproductive performance.

A lot of research emphasis has been placed on the production of high-EBI cows. This work is indeed commendable. However, common sense has to prevail at farm level. Cows have to be fit if they are to go back in calf and avoid a high incidence of embryonic death.


Fit cows are those with a minimum body condition score of 2.5 at breeding, where lameness cases need to be below 5pc, mastitis incidence below 2pc and animal health issues such as Leptospirosis, BVD, IBR, Salmonella and Neospora addressed.

Ignore the emphasis on fit cows at your peril. Place an emphasis now on having your cows fit for breeding. It is not too late. If a cow is fed a balanced diet, excessive body weight loss is avoided post-calving. Therefore, the immune system of the cow will help maintain a healthier defence against lameness, mastitis and other diseases.

A total emphasis on milk from grass, incorporating New Zealand management systems, is not suited to getting cows in calf under Irish production systems.

'Golf ball' grazing may produce excellent sward quality but it is not suitable for getting cows in calf, even aside from the animal welfare issues.

Balanced concentrate implementation to minimise body condition loss of cows during the dry-cow and post-calving periods is essential.

This will enhance the reproductive health of the cow and the money spent will give benefits in terms of animal welfare, and will help boost the number of in-calf cows at the end of the breeding season.

Tips and information from Dr Dan Ryan on herd management are available on

Irish Independent

For Stories Like This and More
Download the Free Farming Independent App

Top Stories