Fall is a very exciting time for most of Ohio's commercial cow-calf operations. Since the majority of this state's producers utilize a spring calving season, they are in the midst of weaning and marketing this year's calf crop. This is the time to reap rewards for months of hard work and management towards the beef enterprise. Now is also a very important time to make management decisions that can affect your operation for years to come.
We are currently in the midst of record high prices for all classes of cattle. Regardless of the price of feeder calves, it is always of the utmost importance to maximize calf crop percentage from your herd. Most reproductive failures in beef females can be attributed to improper nutrition and thin body condition. If you have a concern over the body condition of your cow herd, this is a critical time to address this situation.
Scoring cows on the basis of body condition can be an important tool to help you maximize the reproductive potential of your herd. Body condition scores (BCS) basically describe the degree of fatness of a cow. A numerical range of 1 to 9 identifies the varying degrees of fatness, with 1 being very thin and 9 being excessively fat. Consult OSU Extension publication L-292, "Scoring Cows Can Improve Profits", for visual and descriptive aids with the various condition scores. If you prefer a video reference, this 8 minute YouTube from the Purdue Beef Team is well done.
The time period immediately after weaning is the ideal time to address body condition problems. For most spring calving herds, this would have the bulk of the cows in the second trimester of pregnancy. This is the easiest and most cost-effective time to make significant changes in the body condition scores of your cows.
Ideally, cows should be sorted by body condition at weaning time or approximately 100 days prior to calving. Group cows by condition score (example: thin, moderate and fat groupings) and feed them to reach a BCS of 5-7 by calving. This system will allow the producer to better match feedstuff quality with the nutritional requirements of the cow. Another suggested grouping system would be to group by supplemental feed needs. This system would go as follows: replacement heifers, young cows and thin older cows and mature cows in adequate condition.
Having cows in an ideal body condition at calving will pay dividends during the next breeding season. Cows scoring 4 BCS or lower can exhibit pregnancy rates at least 20% lower when compared to cows BCS 5-7. Regardless of feeder calf prices, this resulting loss of potential calves to sell could spell economic doom for many producers.
Source: John Grimes, OSU Extension Beef Coordinator