Thursday, 01 April 2021 13:58

Cow BCS now more in the spotlight

Written by  Greg Jarratt
Cows with marginal BCS are now in the spotlight. Cows with marginal BCS are now in the spotlight.

Up until now the dairy industry has largely left the monitoring and management of cow body condition scores (BCS) to individual farmers, but change is imminent as scrutiny builds from within the consumer base of our valuable markets.

This increasing market focus has been one of the drivers of the very recently rolled out ‘Fonterra Co-operative difference’. This new initiative by the co–op serves as an incentive focusing on improving practices around the environment, record keeping, animal welfare, people management and milk quality. By fulfilling further requirements in these areas, farmers will be awarded a further 10 cents/kgMS produced for the 2021-22 season – a figure certainly not to be sneezed at.

One of the areas in the spotlight is cows with marginal BCS. Presence of these cows within a herd is indicative of an extended period of suboptimal nutrition, representing a period where cow wellbeing is deemed suboptimal.

In the past, the Dairy Cattle Code of Welfare required farmers to take immediate action (including drying off and providing additional feed) if a cow was to fall below BCS 3.0. It is now expected all cows supplying Fonterra will have BCS of 3.5 or more and the onus is on farmers to ensure cows stay above this level.

It is therefore recommended that herds are objectively assessed at crucial times during the season, such as pre-calving, pre-mating and mid to late lactation, and farmers are expected to take action to prevent individual cows falling below the 3.5 threshold.

In addition to monitoring the herd throughout the year, farmers are being encouraged to take a proactive approach with feed budgeting in an attempt to address high risk times of the season, such as summer drought conditions. Preparing an annual feed budget in autumn/winter for spring calving herds provides an opportunity for managers to forecast feed pinches and decide on a strategy to mitigate significant BCS loss. An added benefit of this planning is that it also provides farmers with a good estimate of the amount of feed required to bridge any gaps, allowing a greater opportunity to contract feed at lower prices.

Finally, as discussed in previous articles, cows that lose and gain weight more frequently throughout a season require significantly more feed to produce milk.

This is because cows short ~3kg DM lose 1kg of liveweight and to regain this weight they require ~5kg DM. It is like borrowing $3 from the bank to pay back $5 within the same year. This equates to a 66% interest rate, which should be avoided at all costs!

In summary, there are many advantages of proactive planning, including improvement of the farmer’s peace of mind, cow welfare, the sourcing and contracting of feeds and ultimately the bottom line of the farm.

By taking a proactive approach represents a win–win for all involved.

• Greg Jarratt is a vet and director of Matamata Veterinary Services.

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