Body condition scoring (BCS) is one of the most useful tools to help dairy farmers make management decisions throughout the season. Although it is a subjective measurement, it is still a good estimate of a cow’s energy reserves, which enable farmers to optimise their production systems.
This means that if BCS targets are met, farmers will have more efficient reproduction and milk production. Additionally, farmers will also see improved cow health and animal welfare.
How does regular BCS optimise our production systems?
The information we get from BCS helps us to make important decisions for our farm, such as feed requirements and when (and which cows) to dry-off. On top of that, knowing the BCS of our cows gives us an insight into our herd’s reproductive performance, hence enabling us to make impactful changes for next season.
When should we be doing BCS?
There are 4 key times for a spring calving herd when BCS will make the most impact in our decision-making:
Pre-Christmas. This score helps us to determine if the cows have gained condition since planned start of mating and therefore set up a feeding plan for autumn.
Pre-dry-off (mid-February to mid-March). This tells us whether or not some cows need to be preferentially fed, milked once-a-day, or dried off early.
Pre-calving. This shows us if our autumn management plan was successful in helping us reach target BCS, or if we need to improve it for next season.
Planned start of mating. This gives us an idea of how much BCS the cows lost between calving and mating.
What targets should we be aiming for?
BCS targets differ between cows and times of the year:
Mature cows = 5.0
Heifers and rising 3-year-olds = 5.5
Ideally less than 15% of cows above or below those targets
Average loss after calving should be <1.0
There should only be, at most, 15% of cows with BCS 4.0 or less.
We have several vets and techs at the clinic that are Accredited Body Condition Assessors. They have completed a certification programme that teaches standardised BCS scoring across NZ so that everyone who goes on-farm to score is on the same page.
BCS can be done anytime during the season, but especially during the 4 key times mentioned before. If 4 times a year is not practical at this stage, starting off with a pre-dry-off BCS will at least give you that baseline and set you up for your planned start of calving. Then slowly incorporating more BCS into other key times will enable you to make more accurate decisions throughout the season.
As always, our team of vets are here to help with any questions or advice you may have around BCS.