If you need to change the body condition of your cows so they will be in the best condition possible for breeding season, now is the time to act. An important activity to do before we get busy with fall harvest is to give your cow a close look. I am not talking about a passing glance, but take the time to critically evaluate each animal; better yet, utilize a trusted advisor such as your feed supplier to body condition score your cows. They have not seen them as often as you nor do they have the “family history” that may bias your scoring. The recent USDA-APHIS survey of Cow Calf Operations indicated that less than 15% of producers use Body Condition Scoring (BCS) as a management tool.
Source: APHIS Small-scale US Cow-calf Operations, April 2011
Body Condition Scoring consists of assigning a BCS from 1 to 10, with 1 being an emaciated animal and a 10 being obese. Research data and personal experience has shown that animals with a BCS of 5 to 6 will have greatly improved pregnancy rates compared to BSC 3 and 4. In addition, thin cows will not milk as well and may wean a lighter calf. In short, the body condition of your cows going into the winter feeding season will impact the next 2 calf crops.
BCS 2 cows will have the ribs and shorts ribs very pronounced. BCS 3 cows will have visible ribs, some cover over the short rib, yet the hip bones and tail head are very pronounced. BCS 4 cows will begin to have some cover over the tail head and hip bones, but they are not smooth. BCS 5 cows will good cover over the tail head and hip bones with a very smooth appearance. BCS 6 cows with have additional cover over the ribs and shoulders. BCS 7 cows will have excess fat deposited around the tail head and some fat appearing in the brisket. The picture below depicts cows at various condition scores.
It is much easier and economical to add condition to cows this time of year. Late Fall and Winter the maintenance cost of the cow is much higher due to cooler weather and increased fetal growth. If you are fortunate enough to be outside of the drought area, you may have late summer pasture where supplementing the forage with a protein block such as Crystalyx® HE-20 or BGF 30® will improve forage utilization and allow the cows to get more energy out of the grass and add body condition. Other management decisions that can impact body condition are earlier weaning, changes in stocking rate, hay feeding or grain feeding. With the current economics of gain feeding, labor and fuel cost to deliver the grain and the potential for hay prices to be higher, using a Crystalyx® self-feed supplements and getting more utilization of the pasture are even a better value. As we prepare for fall harvest, be sure to take a break and look at your cows. There may be some management changes that will impact your herd’s future performance and profitability.