Monitoring of body condition score (BCS) in winter milk cows is important at this stage of lactation, to ensure excess condition is not lost.
Autumn-calving cows losing excessive amounts of condition could be an indication that there is an issue with negative energy balance (NEB).
NEB is expected around calving with some loss of body condition, but prolonged periods of NEB or severe cases can result in cows developing metabolic disorders such as ketosis.
Almost all cows will have some degree of NEB in early lactation, but excessive or prolonged NEB can lead to conditions such as ketosis, fatty liver and displaced abomasum.
The loss of body condition is due to cows mobilising body fat to make up for the NEB; a cow losing a full condition score within the first 30 days after calving is unacceptable.
According to Teagasc, indicators of an NEB issue in the herd are:
- Less than 15% of early lactation cows with milk protein <3.05%;
- Less than 15% of cows with a milk fat : protein ratio >1.4;
- Less than 25% of cows with >0.5 units of body condition score (BCS) loss in early lactation.
If excess condition is being lost by your cows, speak with your vet and nutritionist to determine how to reduce the excessive loss of condition or how this can be prevented in the future.
On farms were split systems are operated, most spring-calving cows are now housed for the winter months.
The next major event for spring-calving cows will be drying-off, but for now a focus needs to be placed on the BCS of these cows.
BCS has a vital role to play for spring-calving cows in the coming months, with failure to have cows in a good condition score at drying-off likely to result in issues at calving.
Now that cows are housed, it is important that you continue to monitor their condition over the coming week ahead of drying-off.
Ensuring that cows are in the correct BCS helps to reduce the risk of cows suffering from issues at calving and from metabolic disorders.
All cows in the shed should be scored over the coming weeks for their condition; for those cows that add condition before calving, drying them off a little earlier is likely the best option.
Extra feeding while still milking is not going to have the desired impact, but once dry, offering them high quality feed should lead to an increase in BCS.