27 March 1998

Know what the score is…

Cow condition scoring

and handling is the focus of

the latest MAFF-funded

roadshow touring the

country. Simon Wragg

reports

THOSE producers not condition scoring cows regularly to check feed intakes are matching cows needs could be committing commercial suicide.

So claims ADAS dairy consultant Sally Tuer who says condition scoring is essential for maintaining efficient output especially when margins are tight.

Speaking to producers as the MAFF roadshow stopped off at Hartpury College, Glos, Mrs Tuer asked: "Without condition scoring, how do you know if cows are in good health? Do you know if feed is being wasted on laying down fat when it should be used for production?"

She urges producers to take a hands-on approach when condition scoring cows. "Feel for fat either side of the tail head. Feeling the short ribs coming off the backbone above the loin will also give an indication of condition."

Ideally, condition score (CS) 2.5-3 should be maintained through the production cycle (see table), she says. "However, its inevitable there will be some fluctuation."

Condition score should be checked when drying-off cows before calving; 60 days into lactation when cows are about to be served; and 200 days post calving.

To assess condition score, Mrs Tuer suggests cows in CS 0 – looking like hat racks – are very undernourished. "Cows in this condition are vulnerable to injury and illness. Theyre real welfare cases," she warns. Cows at CS 1 are similar.

Very little fat can be felt around the tail head at CS 2. "This condition will deteriorate rapidly in early lactation without adequate feeding. Fertility will also be affected."

Condition score 3, or just under, is considered ideal, says Mrs Tuer. "You can feel a light covering of fat on the tail head. But a high energy diet is needed to avoid weight loss during early lactation and ensure good reproductive performance.

"Cows in condition score 4 are often more of a problem than thin cows. Fat cover over the tail head is easily felt. Theyre lazy and have low feed intakes. During the lactation body fat reserves are mobilised which can cause fatty liver syndrome," she warns.

Cows in CS 5 are cull cases and unlikely to lose sufficient weight or achieve efficient production, she suggests.

For cows, a change of 50kg liveweight represents the difference between two consecutive condition scores. For heifers its 15kg liveweight, suggests Mrs Tuer.

"Its especially important to achieve the correct condition score for heifers as theyre on a knife edge. Any early lactation weight loss is hard to rectify as they are still growing.

"For an in-calf heifer in mid-lactation, an improvement of CS 2 to 3 is equal to a 90kg increase in liveweight as shes still growing, providing for the calf and producing milk."

Feed cows to match production, advises Mrs Tuer. Mid-lactation offers greatest opportunity to adjust feeding and condition scores with less risk to production.

Table 1. Target condition scores

Cow Heifer

Pre-calving 2.5-3.0 2.5-3.0

Pre-serving 2.0-3.0 2.0-2.5

Drying off 2.5-3.0 n/a

Condition scoring tips

* Feel around the tail head for fat.

* Feel the short ribs above the loin.

* Check scores regularly.

* Tweek scores during lactation.

Fourth calver giving 4.5 litres in CS 3.5. "Over condition from target of CS 2.5 but a Friesian type."

Heifer in second lactation. CS2.5. "Visually she looks lean – very hollow between the pins."

Fresh-calved, fourth lactation cow at CS4.5. "Not a healthy condition at all."

If youre not condition-scoring cows, you could be committing commercial suicide, says ADASconsultant Sally Tuer.

Target condition scores


Cow Heifer

Pre-calving 2.5-3.0 2.5-3.0

Pre-serving 2.0-3.0 2.0-2.5

Drying off 2.5-3.0 n/a

CONDITION SCORING TIPS


&#8226 Feel around the tail head for fat.

&#8226 Feel the short ribs above the loin.

&#8226 Check scores regularly.

&#8226 Tweek scores during lactation.