Know the score when it comes to body condition

Body condition scoring (BCS) of dairy cows delivers impressive results

For many farmers, body condition scoring is a
For many farmers, body condition scoring is a "job for next week"
Joe Kelleher

Joe Kelleher

Body Condition Scoring is a tool that most farmers think is a great idea, but very few actually do it. Why not? This week I've interviewed three farmers who are all body condition scoring (BCS) their cows and reaping the rewards.

What is body condition scoring? BCS is the appraisal of cow fat reserves through a combination of handling and visual assessment.

It allows the subjective assessment of thin and fat cows regardless of frame size or breed on a scale of 1 to 5. (1 = extremely thin, 5 = extremely fat). There are three main areas of the cow we look at when body condition scoring; the short ribs, the long ribs and the pins. A guide on how to body condition score is available from your local Teagasc advisory office.

So why aren't more farmers body condition scoring their cows? One of the main reasons is that it is a job that doesn't have a deadline, the cow won't die if it's not done and there are no penalties if it isn't done, and for many farmers, if it doesn't tick one of these three boxes then it is "a job for next week".

However, for most, it keeps being put off until next week. Another reason is that running cows through the crush can be a big ordeal on farm arms lacking good cattle handling facilities.

The three farms interviewed are all using BCS and each of them are showing fantastic fertility and production figures. However, body condition scoring on its own is useless unless you actually use the information to good effect and that is where all three farms excel.

Ideally the entire herd should run through the crush at least twice in the year, and visually assessed another three to four times in the year. All herds should be assessed in the next two weeks to identify cows for early dry off and assessed again when the entire herd is dried off to identify cows for special treatment during the dry period.

Thin cows

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As you can see from the three farmers interviewed, all are dealing with thin cows differently. Some are using once-a-day milking to build up condition, some are drying cows off early and more are increasing meal feeding.

The main point here is that they are all doing something to rectify the issue. For example, where a cow gets an extra six weeks of a dry period (on top of the standard eight weeks) and is fed 72pc DMD silage, then she will put on an additional half a BCS before calving down next spring.

For those of you that have signed up to the milk supply reduction scheme, this is an option definitely worth considering.

Getting started

First find out how to body condition score your cows, then run cows through crush and note all thin cows, then put a plan in place as to how you are going to put condition on these thin cows. Make it a job for this week - not next week.

Joe Kelleher is a Teagasc advisor based in Newcastle West, Co Limerick

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