Cattle Healthline: Keep Cows in Peak Condition

February 12, 2010 01:49 PM


Dan Goehl

Keeping cows in adequate body condition is key in maintaining breed-back times. Reproductive efficiency is directly correlated to cow body condition.

The main reproductive problem is failure of the cow to return to estrus or "heat." Body condition scoring of cows will help determine if they are at an adequate nutrition level. Cows within the correct range of body condition are most likely to return to estrus in a timely fashion and breed back early in the breeding season.

Body condition scoring is an ongoing process, as body condition cannot be changed overnight. Beef cows are assigned a numerical value between 1 and 9 for body condition. A cow with a score of 1 is severely thin and a 9 is obese. Cows should be in body condition 5 or 6 going into breeding season.

Cows require around 1.25% of their body weight in protein. They will consume 2% to 4% of their weight in forage. Poor-quality forages leave cows needing more protein but exhibiting lower consumption rates. Quality-test hay to ensure adequate nutrition.

Feed efficiency and frame size. Bigger is not always better in regard to the size of your cows. The most important number to the producer is the relationship of cost to pounds weaned by the herd.

One way to evaluate cow efficiency is to look at the ratio of calf weaning weight to cow body weight. A cow should be able wean a calf that is 50% of her weight. To compare, calves from smaller mature-size cows need to weigh 500 lb. and calves from larger-framed cows need to weigh 750 lb. The 1,500-lb. cow must wean a calf 50% bigger to break even with her 1,000-lb. counterpart.

Producers have to ask themselves if a herd of 30 cows that weigh 1,000 lb. will wean more weight than a herd of 20 1,500-lb. cows.

I also urge you to weigh your cows. Many producers think they have 1,000-lb. to 1,200-lb. cows, but when they put them on a scale find they weigh over 1,500 lb.

DAN GOEHL, DVM, and his wife own Canton Veterinary Clinic in Canton, Mo., working with stocker and cow–calf beef operations. E-mail questions to

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