Assessing your herd to ensure stale cows are fit, not fat, for a smooth transition.
8th July 2019

Pictured: Laura Kennedy, Ruminant Nutritionist at Fane Valley Feeds

As we move into July, Autumn calving dairy herds should be starting to plan ahead and consider the body condition of their cows prior to drying off. Body condition score (BCS) is a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 is very thin and 5 is very fat and it describes the overall fat coverage and flesh of the cow. Cows should be condition scored regularly throughout their lactation with one scoring conducted in late lactation around 250-270 days in milk so that if necessary, dietary changes can be made then prior to dry off to ensure cows are at the correct BCS of around 3.0 at drying off. 

Cows are most likely to gain flesh during late lactation as their energy requirements are falling and while a certain amount of excess energy is required to re-gain condition lost during peak production, this is a crucial time to ensure cows are not overfed, which is an unnecessary cost to the business. Ideal BCS varies throughout a cow’s lactation, with BCS falling slightly during peak production before recovering again but during the dry cow period, the body condition of the cow should not change and the dry cow ration should be formulated to ensure these cows maintain this condition through to calving.

Fat cows with a BCS of over 3.5 are more susceptible to disease and set-backs pre and post calving. They have a supressed appetite due to an increase in the hormone leptin and resultantly, have a lower dry matter intake in early lactation which leads to an array of other issues such as ketosis and displaced abomasum’s. Fat cows are also more susceptible to metabolic disease such as retained placentas and milk fever, which all have a longer term impact on fertility and milk production in the subsequent lactation.

Despite the negative impacts of over conditioned dry cows, the BCS should not be changed during the dry period, as reducing energy density of the dry cow diet below maintenance leads to the early onset of ketosis. Similarly, thin cows should be given attention prior to dry off to increase BCS, as changing BCS after drying off is difficult and thin cows with a BCS of under 2.5 are more likely to suffer from ketosis and other metabolic disease post calving.

Condition scoring cows is essential through their lactation to ensure they are receiving optimum nutrition for their stage of production and the team of Cow Signals Masters at Fane Valley Feeds can help you to assess this on farm by condition scoring cows at key points during their lactation. Ensuring cows are in ideal body condition of 3.0 at drying off and that they maintain this condition through to calving will help to ensure maximum production and improved fertility in the subsequent lactation. Cows are much less likely to suffer from pre and post-calving diseases if BCS is correct and this will help to improve overall farm efficiency and profitability.

For more information or advice on dry cow management and body condition scoring pre-dry off please contact your local Fane Valley Feeds representative or call 028 8224 3221.