Condition scoring your dairy herd

Travelling around the Manawatu and Tararua districts you have a great chance to view the condition of the local dairy herds.

Over winter I had noticed quite a few herds were getting offered what I would call a maintenance diet that was not sufficient to either maintain or lift their body condition. It is possible many farmers milked on longer than usual to take advantage of the high milk price and the weather conditions that were favourable. Your cows body condition at calving is critical if you are to have a good overall season.

It is possible many farmers milked on longer than usual to take advantage of the high milk price and the weather conditions that were favourable. Your cows body condition at calving is critical if you are to have a good overall season.

Body condition of the cow influences productivity (by 12 -15 kgmMS/season), reproduction (Increase 6-week mating % by 2 -4%), health, and the length of time she will remain in the herd. Thinness or fatness can be a clue to underlying nutritional deficiencies, health problems, or improper herd management. If done on a regular basis, body condition scoring can be used to troubleshoot problems and improve the health, longevity, and productivity of your dairy herd.

Over-condition, may result from poor nutrition or reproduction management. A fat cow is more susceptible to metabolic problems, infections and is more likely to have difficulty at and after calving. Over-conditioning usually begins during the last three to four months of lactation, when milk production has decreased, but dietary energy and total nutrient levels have not been reduced accordingly. Other common causes are prolonged dry periods or overfeeding during the dry period.

Under-conditioning, or thinness can frequently have lower production and milksolids levels because of insufficient energy and protein reserves to maintain production. Thin cows often do not show heat or conceive until they start to regain--or at least maintain--body weight. In feeding these animals, care must be taken to maintain production while increasing body reserves. The use of supplementation during the dry period should be considered if this is the case.

New Zealand uses the one to 10 body condition scoring system (BCS): Ideally cows should be at a BCS of 5.0 at calving and as normal will lose condition in early lactation, but this needs to be limited to 1.0 CS before mating. They should then maintain this condition throughout the rest of the lactation and start to put on condition to get back to BCS 5.0 by calving.

Cows of a BCS 3.0 or less are considered emaciated and will definitely need to put on condition if they are perform as expected in a miking herd. Fonterra Farmers' Terms of Supply effective from June 2021 requires farmers to take urgent remedial action in the event that the body condition score of any animal falls below 3.5 to improve the animals BCS.

Body condition scoring is also beneficial in dairy heifer feeding management. Thin heifers may not grow rapidly enough to reach puberty by 11 to 13 months of age. They may also be too small to calve at 22 to 24 months or to carry enough weight to maintain a normal first lactation production. On the other hand, fat heifers have been shown to be difficult to breed, and if fat when they are near calving, have difficult calving and produce less milk when they enter the milking herd, especially if they have been fat at puberty. Ideally heifers and second calvers should be at a CS of 5.5 going into calving.

Have a look at these handy body condition scoring charts here.

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