Ruth Correll: Condition score cows to prepare for winter

Ruth Correll • Nov 28, 2017 at 10:14 PM

Do you remember the story about “Goldilocks and the Three Bears?” The story goes that Goldilocks visits the three bears when they are not at home. She finds three bowls of porridge on the table and as she tries them. 

She finds one too hot, one too cold and one just right, and she eats the whole bowl.  

The story goes on but I think we can apply this principal to cows in the beef herd, as well. This is mid-fall, and it is a good time to be checking on the body condition of the cow herd. We need to look for some that may be too thin, some that may be too fat and some that are just right. Hopefully most of them will be just right.

To manage a beef cow-calf operation in the most cost-efficient way, producers must be aware of the body condition of their herd. Research indicates that the body condition of beef cows is related to many critical aspects of production such as conception rate, days to estrus, calving interval and milk production. When cows are extremely thin they are not only reproductively inefficient, but they are more susceptible to health problems. On the other hand, cows that are over-conditioned are the most costly to maintain. Over-conditioned 2 year olds may encounter calving difficulty due to the excessive fat in the pelvic area.

Body condition scoring is a useful management tool for distinguishing differences in nutritional needs of beef cows in the herd. This system uses a numeric score to estimate body energy reserves in the cow. Research indicates that there is a strong link between the body condition of a cow and her reproductive performance. The percentage of open cows, calving interval, and calf vigor at birth are all closely related to the body condition of cows both at calving and during the breeding season. 

All these factors play an important role in the economics of a beef cow-calf operation and help determine the percentage of viable calves each year. Monitoring body condition using the BCS system is an important managerial tool for assessing production efficiency.  Using the BCS system of 1-9 with 1 extremely thin and 9 extremely fat, the mature cow should be a BCS of 5 at calving, and heifer should be a BCS of 6. Research has shown the females with a BCS lower than 5 will be much slower to breed back.

We know the importance of BCS, now what should be done? The cows in the herd should be body condition scored. Should every cow be evaluated? The answer is yes, but only if you have plenty of time to do it or you want to monitor the progress of individual cows. Since cow herds are managed as a group, all that is needed is to look at enough animals to determine the average.

It would be desirable to sort out the cows far away from the average. For example, if the average BCS is 4 and there are a few that are 3s and a few that are 5s, then the 3 and 5 condition score cows will need to be fed differently. The 3s will need more and higher quality feed and the 5s will need less and a lower quality feed that the average cow. 

Take a hard look at the 3 cows. Is it going to be economical to bring them back to the point where they should be? Marketing these animals may be the best option. Just remember that it takes an 80-100-pound increase in weight to move up just one body condition score, and it will require a lot of feed. 

As the feeding program is developed, remember that energy is the most important nutrient. Adequate protein is required, but energy is the nutrient that will add weight. Be sure to monitor the BCS as the feeding program progresses. 

The take home message is that beef producers need to observe the body condition of their cows to be sure they are in the proper condition for optimum reproductive performance. The goal is to get a good calf on the ground each year. Beef producers need to know when the cow is not too fat or not too thin but just right. If you need additional information on body condition scoring, contact the local Extension office.

For more information, contact the UT-TSU Extension office in Wilson County at 615-444-9584. You can also find us on Facebook or visit extension.tennessee.edu/wilson. Ruth Correll, UT Extension-TSU Cooperative Extension agent in Wilson County, may be reached at 615-444-9584 or [email protected]


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