Dr. Rachel Endecott, MSU Extension Beef Cattle Specialist, will present an interactive workshop that will cover the basics of body condition scoring cattle on Wednesday, November 20 beginning at 2:00 p.m. at the Prairie County Courthouse. The workshop will also include a ranch visit to view some cattle in various condition scores. Endecott will discuss the influence cow condition has on reproductive performance. Frame scores of cattle along with winter feeding considerations for the beef cattle herd will also be addressed.
Please contact the Extension Office at 635-2121 if you have questions or would like to attend this workshop.
Following is an article written by Endecott on Managing Cow Body Condition:
It’s finally starting to feel like fall, and with that come chores like weaning, shipping, and pregnancy checking. While those cows are in the pen for pregnancy checking, it might be worth your while to evaluate their body condition.
Body condition scores describe relative fatness of a cow herd using a 9-point system, where 1 is “emaciated” and 9 is “obese”. The main components of body condition scoring are visible bone structure, muscling, and fat cover. A body condition score 1 cow has shoulders, ribs, backbone, hooks, and pins that are sharp to the touch and easily visible. She would exhibit no evidence of fat or muscling. In contrast, the bone structure of a body condition score 9 cow is not seen or easily felt and her tailhead is buried in fat. My theory is that most body condition score 9 cows have names, not numbers! Happily, neither body condition score 1 or 9 cows are common sights in Montana beef cattle herds.
Most industry recommendations suggest that mature cows be in condition score 5 at calving and that first-calf heifers be in condition score 6 for optimal reproductive performance and colostrum production. Characteristics of a body condition score 5 cow include that her 12th and 13th ribs are only visible if she is shrunk, and she has visible muscling and some fat on each side of her tailhead. On the other hand, the ribs of a body condition score 6 cow are fully covered and not visible, and she has noticeable springiness over her foreribs and tailhead.
Post-weaning is a great time to improve condition of thin cows because it coincides with their lowest nutrient requirements of their production cycle. This phenomenon can often be observed when cows graze dormant forage pastures post-weaning and gain body condition going into the winter, and shows that even in late lactation, the production of milk requires a large proportion of nutrients. Energy requirements decrease nearly 25% when a cow transitions from late lactation to a dry cow in mid-gestation, and protein requirements decrease by nearly a third from pre-weaning to post-weaning.
We can take advantage of the lower nutrient requirements post-weaning to put weight back on thin cows, who tend to use nutrients quite efficiently. Let’s say during the 3rd trimester, we feed 28 pounds of good quality alfalfa-grass hay to a mature, 1400 lb cow in body condition score 6. She would maintain weight and body condition, depending on the weather. If we had a similar cow in body condition score 3 and we fed her 28 pounds of the same hay, she would gain about 0.2 pounds per day. The thinner cow has lower maintenance requirements because she is smaller (thinner) and has more nutrients left over from the 28 pounds of hay to use for weight gain, thus she uses nutrients very efficiently.
What would happen if we decided to intervene earlier in the production calendar to get the thin cow to gain weight? If that same body condition score 3 cow were in mid-gestation instead of late-gestation, she would gain about 1.65 pounds per day when fed 28 pounds of the hay. That’s right, the thin cow in mid-gestation has an average daily gain 8 times higher than the cow in late gestation when fed the same amount of hay! This shows just how much the nutrient requirements increase from mid-gestation to the third trimester. Because the fetus has considerably lower nutrient demands during mid-gestation, the cow has more nutrients to devote to her body weight gain.
Three important times of the year to take a critical look at body condition would be at weaning/preg-check, the start of the third trimester, and calving. Keep in mind that as time passes between weaning and calving, the opportunity to take advantage of lower nutrient requirements of the cow slips away. Post-weaning is usually the best time to put weight on thin cows in an economical and efficient manner.
Published November 13, 2013