As the calendar crawls closer toward the end of winter, keeping cows in good body condition score can be a challenge, but it is an important task, especially ahead of calving. Forage shortages and expensive hay can add to that challenge, but veterinarians say taking care of cows during this crucial time sets up the payoff for a lot of work and expense.
John Bolinger, a veterinarian based in Tipton, Missouri, says cows are an investment for operations.
“We have a lot of resources in our cattle,” he says. “You have a large annual cost.”
Terry Engelken, an Iowa State University veterinarian, says getting cows in the right body condition ahead of calving can help with calving success and raising the new calf, but also with preparing for the next calf crop.
“Getting body condition right, not only going into calving, but also wanting them that way so they can be ready for the next breeding season,” he says.
Engelken says the target can be a little different for heifers as opposed to experienced cows, but the overall goal and reasoning is the same – making sure cattle are operating at their optimum level.
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“I’d like to see cows average 5 to 5 and a half,” he says. “I like to see heifers around 5 and a half to 6.”
A.J. Tarpoff, a Kansas State University veterinarian, says the goal of cows at a 5 or 5 and a half puts them near the middle of the 1 to 9 body condition score system. He says this helps them function at their highest level.
“Our most efficient animal, in the lead for production of colostrum quality and quantity, for breed back, so we don’t have dystocia problems, is the 5, 5 and a half,” he says.
When producers have cows that are skinnier than that, Tarpoff says it is worthwhile to spend what it takes to get them back where they need to be.
“If we do have skinny cows, having a steady plan of nutrition to get them ready for calving, that’s an investment in the herd that pays off,” he says.
He says producers can work with Extension livestock specialists or their veterinarian to get assistance in developing nutrition plans to get cows where they need to be ahead of the rigors of calving and raising a calf.
Tarpoff says producers can also sort cows into groups based on their body condition and how close to calving they are, to make sure they are getting nutrition tailored to their needs and where they are. He says sorting them helps focus feeding plans more accurately to each animal.
Bolinger, a graduate of the University of Missouri veterinary school, says these nutrition considerations fit with other sound health practices like vaccination programs and preg checking.
“We try to line it up with the other management things on the farm,” he says.