By Sarah Thorson, Beef Marketing and Education Manager, Genex
For most beef producers, high on the fall to-do list is pregnancy checking the herd (and crossing your fingers most, if not all, are pregnant). It’s an important herd management step because, as we all know, culling the open females can lead to significant savings at the feed pile – and I think everyone can agree we want our operations to be as profitable and cost-effective as possible. Along with pregnancy detection, there is another important observation you should make while the pregnant female is in the chute – body condition score (BCS).
Feeding a female into a higher BCS at calving is a losing proposition, limited by the cow’s ability to consume enough to overcome her energy deficit and the size of your feed bill. That is why body condition scoring at pregnancy check is such an important tool. At pregnancy check cows are in mid-gestation, which is one of their lowest maintenance energy requirement times, therefore it is the most economical time to add body condition. (It’s a win-win for everyone.)
The quandary of waiting until calving to observe body condition is that a female in her early post-partum period is experiencing some of the highest maintenance energy requirements of her life (you’d have ridiculously low energy too if you were providing nutrients to another growing being)! This is especially true for 2-year-olds who not only work hard to produce milk to raise their calf but are still growing themselves.
Research tells us body condition score at calving has one of the greatest impacts on rebreeding performance. For a cow to maintain a 365-day calving interval, she must be rebred by 82 days post-calving. Cows that calve at a BCS 3 or 4, on average, exhibit first estrus at approximately 80 days post-calving, making it very difficult to maintain a one-year calving interval. On the other hand, females that calve at a BCS 5 or 6 average 55 days to first heat post-calving.1 That’s a 25-day difference, and we all know time is money!
At pregnancy check you want the majority of cows in BCS 5 or 6 for optimal reproductive performance.
Once you have BCS score information, it is important to use it. If pasture or pen space is available, it is a good idea to group cattle by body condition. (A little organization goes a long way and will save you future headaches.) You can then manage thin females to gain condition and manage other females to maintain body condition in the most efficient manner possible.
The importance of body condition score and its role in the rebreeding efficiency of your herd should not be overlooked. After all, the success of your next breeding season is largely determined before this year’s calf crop hits the ground!
1 Rasby, Rick. Body Condition Scoring Your Beef Cow Herd. University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Learning Modules.