DeLaval BCS machine

Condition scoring dairy cows could be made easier thanks to the launch of the first automated body condition scoring (BCS) system.

The BCS system launched by DeLaval uses a 3D camera fixed on a gate or robot. Once a cow passes under the camera, the system recognises the movement and selects the best still image of the cow in the video sequence.

See also: Top tips for buying a used robot

The image is converted into a body condition score using specialist software, with farmers able to analyse scores of individual animals, groups or the entire herd. The software uses the industry’s 1-5 scoring system.

The equipment needs to be linked to a DeLaval milking system- conventional or robotic, but can be installed on other farms at an additional cost.

The capital cost equates to £5 a cow a year based on a 200-cow herd already on a DeLaval system. This includes the video equipment and the software used to analyse condition scores.

The company’s Kieran FitzGerald says the cost is reasonable compared with an independent assessor. “To get a professional in every month would cost you £300/day, or £3,600/year. This system also allows you to monitor condition every day and identify cows immediately that are losing too much condition at the end of the lactation or early in lactation.”

Mr FitzGerald says identifying condition loss at the start and end of lactation can help prevent yield loss and delayed oestrus, which can have knock-on effects on fertility.

Other benefits of maintaining cows in correct body condition throughout lactation include:

  • Reducing cases of ketosis
  • Reducing the feed cost by trimming down the feed of overweight cows
  • Increasing milk yield from a herd where all cows have the optimum body condition. DeLaval claims the system can mean an increase of up to 545kg during the first 120 days of lactation
  • Reducing the number of open days by bringing the body condition score back to an optimum level as soon as possible after calving.

Target body condition scores for cows and heifers

Stage of lactations

Cows

Heifers

Pre-calving

2.5–3

2.5–3

Pre-service

2–3

2–2.5

Drying-off

2.5–3