By STACY CAMPBELL
Special to The Hays Daily News
Many studies have found cows with a body condition scores of less than 5 at calving experience a longer interval to rebreeding making them more likely to have younger lighter calves at weaning the following year.
Now is a perfect time to evaluate your options to get cows into optimal condition at calving. A key part of that planning process is to evaluate the BCS of cows now. BCS is a method of assessing the level of fatness or body condition of cows by using a scoring system from 1 (emaciated and carrying virtually no fat) to 9 (excessively fat). If you are unsure about your ability to assign BCS’s there are a variety of ways to sharpen your skills.
* Take advantage of the resources online with photos and written descriptions;
* Arrange to meet your county agent at the sale barn to watch the cows sell; or
* Ask your county agent, vet or other experienced person to look at your own cows with you.
Most folks can do a good job at identifying the fattest and the thinnest cows, however problems could arise if your BCS 5 is 75 to 100 pounds lighter weight than the intended score.
In a recent conversation with a producer about body condition when we were both looking at the same cows. We learned that what I call a 3.5 to 4 he considers a 5, said Sandy Johnson, northwest area Extension beef specialist.
To easily BCS a group of cows while going through the pasture, start with a sheet of paper that has places for you to tally the number of cows with BCS scores ranging from less than 3 to more than 6. As you go by cows, make a mark for each cow in one of the BCS categories. You can calculate an average BCS from this tally as well as see the distribution of scores.
If cows are thin or less than BCS of 4 now is a good time to increase BC, before cold weather and energy requirements ramp up. One of the best ways to get them to regain condition rapidly is to wean calves earlier than normal, by just weaning one month earlier, thin cows and heifers can put on quite a bit of gain. This is often a good move for 2-year-olds or other thin cows.
As you evaluate the timing of weaning and the value of the calf, remember that the cost of putting weight back on a cow is higher if you wait longer to do so because of the increasing nutrient demand of pregnancy and cold weather. If the thin cow fails to get the needed quality of feedstuff to regain weight, extreme weather conditions can pose a serious threat. Another approach if cows are thin is to recognize that protein content of native pastures has been dropping for some time now. In many cases crude protein supplementation will prevent cows from losing more weight while the calves are still on them. The equivalent of 1 pound per day of a 30 percent CP supplement would work for many cases and it could be delivered one to three times per week. We used to think it didn’t matter if cows got rather thin during the year as long as they made it back to a target BCS by calving. Increasingly, research shows that nutrition of the pregnant dam has long lasting impacts in the offspring on factors such as carcass weight and heifer pregnancy rate.
Next trip through the cows, evaluate BC and use it as a consideration for determining weaning time and supplementation plans for the coming months. For more info about BCS, contact your county Extension office. * Information provided by Sandy Johnson, northwest area Extension beef specialist.
Stacy Campbell is Ellis County agricultural agent with Kansas State Research and Extension.