Farmers need to know their cows body score is right to ensure they can go back in-calf within a short period. A cow that calves thin will stay thin through the breeding season. If a cow has a good body condition score at the start of the breeding season, it increases the likelihood of pregnancy. Farmers need to monitor the body condition score of their cows during lactation and the dry period to maximise fertility performance.
After calving it is natural for cows to lose body condition. For dairy cows after calving, they experience a rapid increase in milk yield and a slow rise in dry matter intake. The period where the highest fat mobilisation occurs is during the first two weeks after calving. For lactating dairy cows, they can lose from 30%-40% of their initial fat reserves after calving. The problem is this can also rise to around 75% if they are not getting the right nutrition. Farmers need to be sure cows are getting the right nutrition to print this and to ensure cows have the right body condition score.
Ensuring the target body condition score is achieved at breeding requires correct management throughout late lactation and the dry period. If farmers don’t have cows in the right body condition score at calving they will find it extremely hard to get the right body condition score in early lactation. If a cow calves thin she will remain thin throughout early lactation and the breeding season. Cows with poor body condition score at calving or cows that lose a lot of body condition are less likely to ovulate which reduces conception rates and could led to added costs to farmers. For cows with a poor body condition score, it can be recommended that these cows are put on one milking per day to allow them to replenish their energy reserves and start cycling normally again. Once the cow has be inseminated and she is scanned in-calf, she may go back to two milking per day while also keeping them on a high nutritional diet.
Grazing pastures is the main diet during lactation, so it can mean that a sizeable proportion of the herd will be below the body condition score target in late lactation due to the failure to regain body condition. Pasture quality reduces during the grazing season which can lead to an inadequate diet to support the body condition score gain needed. This could mean farmers need to feed supplements to certain cows.
The dry period is a rest period for a cow so they can recuperate. The dry off period is a rest in the lactation cycle of a cow with the farmer trying to give the cow a trouble-free transition to the next lactation. Cows should have an eight week dry off period at least with cows with poor body condition score getting longer. The forage quality needs to be to a high standard, as the farmer is trying to get the cows to maximise their energy intake from silage to increase their body condition score.
With milk prices, farmers can be tempted to keep milking late lactation cows over the winter on moderate quality silage and extra supplements. This will not be worth it, as cost will quickly outweigh any short-term gains. The earliest calving and the thinnest cows should be prioritized for an early dry off date.
With farmers having knowledge about body condition score, it allows them to make more informed decisions on nutritional management to optimise the milk production and fertility performance of their herds while also helping farmers to cut costs.
Want to learn more about Body Condition? Why not check out our weekly video series, 'Body Condition and Nutrition'. Watch the first episode here.