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Achieving Optimum Dry Cow Body Condition

12:46PM Dec 22, 2014

Ideal dairy cow body condition scores can not be achieved overnight. A good foundation in precision feeding and monitoring body scores are essential on any dairy farm.
By: Virginia Ishler, Extension Dairy Specialist, Penn State University

Production Perspective

The dry cow and the transition period continue to be an area on farm that presents many challenges to the dairy producer. There is no one solution or additive that will combat metabolic problems or poor starts if the underlying problem is the lack of precision feeding.

The other bottleneck is the condition of the animal as she enters the dry period. If an animal is over conditioned (body condition score greater than 3.75) then the challenge is how to maintain condition without her getting overly fat. With the good quality forages on farm, avoiding excess energy consumption can be difficult.

Over-conditioned cows are candidates for metabolic problems at calving. If cows come into the dry period too thin (body condition less than 3.25) then she may have difficulty after freshening consuming enough energy to meet the production demand. She may also lose too much condition affecting peak milk.

Making adjustments to body condition requires a long term plan. Precision feeding will help in the implementation but it will not solve the problem in the short term.

Action plan for addressing body condition problems at dry off

Goal - Maintain body condition score of 3.25 - 3.75 during the dry period (5 point scale).

  1. Develop a standard operating procedure where someone is assigned to body condition score cows 30 days fresh, at first breeding, 200 days in milk and at dry off.
  2. Record information in a spreadsheet and present the data at a team meeting to review results and discuss potential strategies.
  3. Based on the problem area, brainstorm ideas related to grouping strategies and ration formulation.
  4. Record the date and the new strategies implemented. Continue to monitor body condition.
  5. Review results with the team in 3 months and 6 months to evaluate changes. Make adjustments as needed based on the results.

Body Condition Examples


Unacceptable body condition for dry cows.


Acceptable body condition for dry cows (3.25-3.75).

Economic Perspective

Monitoring an economic component is necessary to determine if a management strategy is working or not. For the lactating cows income over feed costs is a good way to check that feed costs are in line for the level of milk production.

Starting with July's milk price, income over feed costs will be calculated using average intakes and production for the last six years from the Penn State dairy herd. The ration will contain 63% forage consisting of corn silage, haylage and hay. The concentrate portion will include corn grain, candy meal, sugar, canola meal, roasted soybeans, Optigen and a mineral vitamin mix. All market prices will be used.

Also included are the feed costs for dry cows, springing heifers, pregnant heifers and growing heifers. The rations reflect what has been fed to these animal groups at the Penn State dairy herd for the past 6 years. All market prices will be used.

Standardized IOFC starting July 2014. Note: September's milk price: $27.24/cwt; feed cost/cow: $5.88; average milk production: 80 lbs.

Standardized feed cost/non-lactating animal/day starting July 2014