For top fertility make condition scoring a must
By Jessica Buss
CONDITION scoring dairy cows, bulling heifers and ewes is now essential to ensure good fertility this summer and autumn.
Despite abundant growth, grass has been hard to manage, leading to poor condition of freshly calved dairy cows, says Wilts-based Axient consultant Neil Adams.
But ADAS sheep consultant Kate Phillips says the opposite is true for ewes, with many becoming over fat and if condition scores are not reduced before tupping lambing performance could be poor.
Dairy producers should monitor milk yield and protein % by month of calving, and cow condition, adds Mr Adams. Milk protein should stay above 3% in fresh calvers.
"When yield or milk protein % decreases you must react and change the feeding. Some cows are short of energy and are not showing clear signs of bulling."
But do not wait to see conception rates fall before reacting to energy deficits, he warns. Mr Adams advises ensuring cows receive an energy balanced ration, based on grass quality and availability. Concentrates are cheap compared with poor fertility, he adds.
Cheshire dairy vet Neil Howie believes a positive energy balance is more important than cow condition when serving cows.
But although flushing cows for a three-week period up to service ensures a positive energy balance, it cannot correct a poor hormonal balance that could have begun in the dry period, Mr Howie warns.
"Some producers have cut back on their dry cow management programmes to reduce costs, so dry cows are grazing too much grass, putting on internal fat and reducing body capacity."
These cows could be mobilising fat and losing weight before calving, risking infertility and calving difficulties and possibly affecting hormone balances, leading to poor egg development.
Mr Howie also warns that some bulling heifers are becoming overfat, but these must still be on a rising plane of nutrition with adequate minerals fed before service.
He advises checking heifers are bulling before beginning serving. Heifers that are not cycling and are fed for flushing can get very fat and this may delay their calving dates further.
That is a concern also afflicting sheep producers, and early lambers should double check condition scores, says Mrs Phillips. "It has been a struggle to keep ewes tight enough on grass." Those that are too fat should be kept on bare pasture if there is time, before raising condition for tupping.
Later lambers should also be condition scored. Even though grass quality has resulted in low lamb growth rates, ewes will have put on weight. Once ewes are weaned they must be kept tight, but will still need flushing for three weeks before tupping.
"Concentrates for flushing are hard to justify. But flushing at grass needs high quality pasture, so producers must top some pasture, ready for September," she advises. *
• Calved cows in energy deficit.
• Monitor cow performance.
• Condition score ewes.