Save time and money on your cow herd this fall and winter, by doing one simple task—body condition score (BCS) your herd each month to monitor forage needs.
Producers often focus on the calves at weaning, but it is also a good opportunity to identify condition and health of your cow herd.
“The cheapest time to improve BCS of cows is right after weaning,” says Amy Radunz, assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. “At that time cows are really efficient and maintenance requirements reduces significantly.”
“The challenge in some areas, as you get into December and January, you are also battling the increase body requirement needs of cold weather, mud and precipitation,” she adds. All of those factors require more calories for cows to maintain and regulate body temperature.
She advises producers identify the number of cows in each BCS category each month so they have a general idea of the overall forage needs, and can identify hard-keeping cows for culling. Click here to download a printable PDF of the scorecard that you can post on the dash of the feed truck, or use on your phone.
“It will be easier to put on weight in the first two months post weaning and then maintain from there.”
As calves are weaned, Radunz suggests producers identify cows in BCS 3 and 4. If possible, sort thin cows into a separate feeding area.
“If you can separate off thin cows from cows in adequate body condition, you can save some feed costs by tailoring feed needs to the animals that need an extra boost,” Radunz says. For the next month or two, focus in improving the BCS of those cows to BCS 5, and them return them to the herd if they are able to maintain that level of condition.
This same strategy can also be used to improve weight gain for older cows that will be heading to market, and allow producers to sell cows as the market offers the best price in their area.
The goal is to have cows in a BCS of 5 to 6 at both calving and breeding.
“It’s not so much that it’s needed for calving, but we want them at least at a BCS of 5 at breeding and most cows will lose body condition as long as the calf is at her side,” Radunz says.
Improving cow condition is extremely difficult while the cow is using increased energy during lactating.
“If producers wait to address BCS later in the fall and early winter, it will cost them more than improving that score in the first months post weaning,” Radunz says. Not only will it require a higher quality forage, but it will also require a greater volume of feed.
Amount of Energy to increase Body Condition Score in late gestation