Condition scoring cows isn’t sexy. But it could be the one tool least used but most effective for prioritizing expensive feed in the critical last trimester of gestation, says Chris Reinhardt, Kansas State Extension Feedlot Specialist.
Scoring cows right so you get the full benefit takes a bit more than just looking at the whole herd and thinking, “They look a little thin,” Reinhardt says. Instead, put a little systemization to work:
- On a large legal pad, make columns for body-condition score 3, 4, 5 and 6.
- Take a few minutes to quickly score and record each cow separately:
- Backbone highly visible, processes of the spine easily distinguished, very little fat cover over the loin, back and fore-ribs? She’s a 3.
- Three of four ribs distinguishable, no fat depots in the brisket or tailhead and you can see the individual vertebrae along the topline? She’s a 4.
- One or two ribs clearly visible, good fullness of muscle in the round with definite muscle definition, individual vertebrae not discernable, and no obvious fat depots behind the shoulder or around the tailhead? A 5.
- As you pass through the herd first thing in the morning before feeding, make a tick mark for each cow in each of the columns.
- Focus on critical 3s and 4s. If you’re two months from calving and need to add one condition score, you’ll need to feed the cows for maintenance, the last third of gestation and an additional 1.0 to 1.5 pounds of daily gain. Condition scores 4 and below can be separated off, and good record-keeping can quickly make it obvious whether they’re true “welfare cows,” or just perennial “hard-keepers” that can still compete.
The bottom line, according to Reinhardt: Fleshier cows going into calving mean healthier calves, along with better breed-back performance.
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