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Beef cow body condition score: Impact on cow longevity

The top reason a cow leaves the breeding herd is due to reproductive failure — either failing to produce a calf or falling out of the desired calving season. The long-term profitability of the operation is directly tied to maintaining cows in the herd for as long as possible and producing a calf every year. Unlike the current cattle cycle and calf prices, managing reproductive performance and maximizing weaning weights are factors within your control.

Managing the body condition score (BCS) and the plane of nutrition of the breeding herd are critical for reaching top reproductive performance. CRYSTALYX® Brand Supplements offers many products and tools to help you reach your breeding goals. Performance is Served with CRYSTALYX.

Longevity: How long does it take to break even on a bred heifer?

We need to consider what it costs to keep a cow for a year. Some of these expenditures are true cash costs, such as supplements and vet bills, but others are non-cash costs, such as your own pasture or crop residue and your labor. Let’s assume a keeping cost of $600 per year, a bred heifer cost of $1,500 and weaned calf value of $900. The table below shows why keeping cows in good body condition going into calving season is so important. That $1,500 heifer needs to have five calves before she pays for herself. The sixth calf and beyond are the most profitable.

Why supplement protein?

The protein and dehydrated molasses sugars delivered in CRYSTALYX protein supplements support optimal rumen function and fiber digestion. Cattle digest forages in the rumen to produce energy in the form of volatile fatty acids and microbial protein. In addition, you are getting a high-quality mineral supplement as well. Often, hay or stockpiled forage is low in protein and high in fiber. Cattle need supplemental protein to properly digest these low-quality forages, which also improves digestibility and the amount of energy extracted. 

CRYSTALYX Beef Cow Body Condition Score App

This tool is a free download for either your iPhone or Android device. We have all become more comfortable with our hand-held devices, and they serve as a great tool for monitoring and managing body condition. Additionally, the younger generation is very comfortable with their devices, and the BCS App is another way to get the kids or grandkids involved in the cattle operation. I have witnessed a grandfather and grandchild out in the pasture taking photos and assigning scores, with the elder telling the youngster about the history of individual animals. On one occasion, I was in a pickup with some customers and heard such stories about a cow that was the first heifer that the child’s mother showed, a cow bought from some relative, and other stories of exceptional calves raised by other cows. I am certain that family will remember that day. I do not know if they will remember that I was along, because they took at least 50 photos, and I am certain they forgot I was in the truck.

Using the BCS App as a management and teaching tool

The desired BCS entering the calving season is either a 5 or 6. Thinner cows will have lower pregnancy rates, and fatter cows could have more calving issues and often have lower milk production — plus the extra weight is not the best use of available feedstuffs. Reaching the desired BCS at calving time starts months earlier. We want cattle in good condition going into the winter months, and then we must maintain that condition. Depending on the severity of the weather and the quality of the forage, we must monitor BCS during the winter. This is true for both fall and spring calving herds. If we see a problem, we have time to change the supplement plan and overall plane of nutrition.

The CRYSTALYX BCS App offers both written and photographic descriptions of each body condition score from 1 to 9. This is a great tool to teach users how to score an animal’s body condition. The pictures can be customized with your own cattle pictures.

Using the BCS App

  1. Take a picture of your cow.
  2. Assign cow ID number and pasture location, if desired.
  3. Toggle between reference photos to assign a BCS.
  4. Save the BCS record and picture.
  5. Records can be viewed for individual animals or a pasture average.
  6. Records can be exported as a spreadsheet, if desired.

My favorite saying is, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” 

As we enter what is typically the coldest part of the year, it is imperative that we keep an eye on our cows’ body condition. We probably see our own cattle too often to safely rely on memory alone. Fast forward to January 5, 2021. Has 601 lost condition? Is the hay as good as you hoped? On average, has the herd held its body condition or gone backwards? You can pull up the CRYSTALYX BCS App and look at how 601 looked at the first of December. Better yet, get your grandchild and score the herd again. Some of the stories will be the same, but the memories will be new.   

CRYSTALYX has our regular protein supplements, such as BGF-30™, which provides protein and a full mineral package at 100% of beef NRC recommendations. The Breed-Up® line offers various protein levels, with part of the mineral package coming from Bioplex® chelated trace minerals, and higher vitamin levels, at 200% of beef NRC recommendations. The Breed-Up® line is designed to be fed 30–45 days prior to calving and through the breeding season. The newest innovation in mineral delivery is the Blueprint® line of products, which includes 100% Bioplex organic trace minerals. Our Blueprint products are the highest-quality and biologically available trace mineral options on the market.