After the hottest and driest summer in a generation and feed stocks at an all-time low, cows are at risk of being too thin. Body condition scoring is the best way to measure cow condition and gives an indication of energy status. It can be very useful as a guide in late lactation to achieve the correct body condition for drying off. Taking the time to body condition score late lactation cows 100 – 80 days before drying off will help prevent having over or under conditioned dry cows, ensuring smooth transition into next lactation.
The ideal body condition score for drying off is 3.
- V/U shape identified between hook, thurl and pins
- Hook bones rounded
- Sacral ligament visible
- Tailhead ligament partly covered in fat – like pinching the skin on your cheek
Any changes in body condition score during the dry period want to be minimal and should be no more than ½ a condition score, which equates to 25kg/30kg. Changes in body condition during the dry period increase the risk of fatty liver and affect insulin resistance and cows calving down don’t want to be more than 3.5. Cows that calve down over 3.5 are exposed to an increased risk of metabolic problems in the fresh period.
Fat cows will have impaired liver function post calving, leading to more body fat mobilisation and increased circulation of non-esterified fatty acids (NEFA) which will reduce dry matter intake and insulin sensitivity (Leclerc, 2012).
Assessing body condition score three months before drying off gives the opportunity to make timely adjustments to the diet to achieve the correct body condition score, and avoids making these adjustments in the dry period. If cows are separated into highs and lows, cows can be moved between groups based on body condition, moving thin, late lactation cows onto the high yielding ration. If cows are running as one group, use parlour feeding to increase energy to underconditioned cows, whist reducing compound feed to any stale cows that are over conditioned.
Thin cows can have a bigger allowance in parlour or put in a high yielding group that are on an energy dense ration and will be able to replenish body reserves efficiently.
Lengthy dry periods should be avoided unless you are regularly assessing body condition score and they are on a restricted energy diet; long dry periods usually lead to fat cows, fat livers, and problems.
Body condition scoring should be easy to do, if not it won’t get done. You can work it into a vet visit or other routine jobs but it will allow you to identify fat or thin cows and make informed management decisions and allow for more precision feeding.
Also consider regular locomotion scoring in late lactation, so any lame cows can be treated accordingly and have enough recovery time rather than doing feet the morning after they have been dried off as this can then just result in having a lame dry cow.
Taking time to plan routine assessments of cow condition, including locomotion, will pay off during transition and into the following lactation. A lot of research that relates to transition nutrition and health relates back to ensuring dry cows are in the correct body condition for calving. Dietary adjustments made in plenty of time before drying off will allow for gradual changes to be made without a negative impact on cow health.
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