Cow condition at calving

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Now is a good time for herd managers to review the body condition of dairy cows with the view to improving herd fertility, cow health and milk production.

Dairy Australia's InCalf project leader, Dr Barry Zimmermann, outlines why body condition at calving is so critical and how to manage it through nutrition.

"Cows in ideal body condition at calving have better fertility than cows in lower body condition. They are more likely to be cycling, submitted for insemination and conceive at the next mating, Dr Zimmermann said.

‘Ideal' body condition at calving is between condition score of 4.5 and 5.5. The body condition of Australian dairy cows is scored on a 1-8 system, as outlined in the Condition Magician booklet, available on the web.

"We all know that cows lose some body condition in early lactation. But those that lose more than one body condition score between mating and calving have reduced fertility," Dr Zimmermann said.

"Most herds have some cows that are too thin at calving, and others that lose too much body condition in early lactation, usually after being too fat at calving," said Dr Zimmermann.

Excessive losses are common when cows calve in body condition score above 5.5. Extended lactation cows are especially prone to be over conditioned if not managed well.

"Managing body condition is all about managing your herd's nutrition program. Improving nutrition from late lactation to early calving pays off in the coming season through improved fertility and milk production," he said.

Nutrition:

Some options for improving body condition include:

Improving nutrition for the whole herd during late lactation.

Early drying off for cows below condition score 4.5 at late lactation.

Preferentially feeding cows below condition score 4.5.

‘Lead feeding' in the last few weeks of the dry period.

To minimise body condition loss in early lactation, consider:

Feeding the highest possible quality pasture to cows in early lactation.

Feeding supplements to balance nutrient intake.

Preferentially feeding cows in early lactation if the option is available with your bail feeding system.