Whenever we think about weaning, we are thinking about the calves.
Did they get their vaccinations on time? Did we give the calves enough time to adjust to the dam not being around/accessible? Do we have the right ration at the bunk?
When you are sorting calves prior to and during weaning you should also take time to check in on the cows. Weaning time is a great time to assess body condition on your cows going into the winter season.
Ask yourself: Are there thin cows that need to be gaining weight for winter? Are there heavy cows that could stand to lose a few pounds?
If yes, now is the time to start making feeding adjustments so that thin cows can gain condition economically through their gestation and heavy cows can gradually drop some weight. Making little adjustments now make management of body condition in beef cows easier closer to calving.
Body condition scoring
Beef cattle are generally evaluated on a nine-point scoring system, with a score of 1 being emaciated, and 9 being an excessively fat animal.
Beef cows maintaining a body condition score of at least 5 throughout gestation tend to recover condition faster after calving, breed back quicker, and have higher pregnancy rates which lead to an on-time calving the following year. This usually results in a heavier calf at weaning, meaning more money in your pocketbook.
Heifers should be maintained at a score of around 6 as they have more energy demands compared to a cow because they are growing a calf, later on maintaining lactation, and finishing their own growth.
Cows that are too thin are more prone to sick or weak calves, decreased milking ability, calving problems, and re-breeding challenges. On the other side, a cow that is too fleshy can also have calving difficulties and is costing you money by eating more feed/higher quality feed than she needs.
Evaluation of cow body condition score is an important management tool that can help you make timely feeding and other nutrition-related decisions. The more uniformity there is in body condition, the easier it is to feed the herd appropriately and efficiently.
Split the herd?
Consider splitting the herd into at least two groups if you have more than one body condition score difference between animals. If you split the herd into only two groups, heifers and thin cows should get grouped together as they will have higher nutrient requirements than cows with a body condition score of 5 or more.
Cows carrying more flesh than desired should be provided with lower quality feed (as compared to thin cows or heifers) to bring the condition score down to the desired level, then maintained according to their nutrient requirements for their stage of gestation.
Keeping records of body condition scores is a simple and easy way to track progress when you are attempting to adjust body condition scores. Progress can be monitored simply by re-evaluating an animal's body condition in a month and adjusting your management of feed accordingly.
For thin cattle, positive changes in condition early on in gestation mean cheaper gains for you as it is challenging (and generally expensive) to get weight gains once the cow calves.
After entering the third trimester, nutrient requirements of the animal are quickly increasing to support fetal growth (almost a pound/day fetal gain can be expected). Feeding your herd according to body condition scores will allow you to make the most of your feed resources and help keep costs as minimal as possible this winter.
More information on body condition scoring beef cattle can be found on the Wisconsin Beef Information Center website.
Seefeldt is the Marquette County Extension agriculture agent.