Almost 50pc of suckler cows calve in March and April, so a large proportion of beef cows are now in the final two to three months of pregnancy.
There are a few important management tasks to be addressed in preparation for calving. By the way, having 50pc of the spring calving herd calving in March and April is rather late for those selling weanlings in the autumn as it means a very light weaning for sale and one that cannot make full use of summer grass. A better target would be to have 50pc of calvings in February and March but that issue is for another day. Today I will discuss feeding to target condition score, pre-calver minerals, scour vaccines and parasite control.
With lower than normal fodder supplies and severe winter weather, cows are on restricted rations on some farms. Body condition score (BCS) is the best guide to correct feeding of suckler cows. The appropriate condition score in late pregnancy is to maintain body condition between BCS 2.0 and 3.0. Having cows above 3.0 is unnecessary, wasteful and can lead to a greater incidence of calving difficulty. Lower than BCS 2.0 results in weaker cows (downer cows) and much slower re-breeding, resulting in an increase in calving interval. Thin cows may also produce poorer quality beastings and calves that are at greater risk of disease.
The energy requirements of suckler cows in late pregnancy, as set out by Mark McGee of Grange, are in the region of 7.5-8.0kg UFL (energy units) per day, which is equivalent in feed terms to 7.5-8kg of barley where there is no loss or gain in body condition. Cows that are in good body condition at the start of the winter (BCS 3.0) can tolerate a loss of 0.5 of a condition score between housing and turnout, which is equivalent to 1kg of barley over 140 days. Therefore, body reserves can be used to substitute for scarce feed supplies in winter, provided cows go into the winter in good condition.
In relation to silage feeding, 7-8 UFL (or kg barley) would equate to between 45kg and 55kg of moderate-quality silage. A 600kg cow is unlikely to consume above 45kg/day of moderate quality silage.
Therefore, cows in condition score 2.5--3.0 should be fed such silage to its appetite, if an adequate supply is available, while thinner cows will need 1-2kg concentrate before calving.
Where silage is restricted provide 1kg concentrate per 7kg of silage spared.
When treating for lice, make sure to cover all the stock in the shed at the one time.