20 November 1998

REGULAR SCORING CAN ADD £40 TO MARGINS

Condition scoring dairy cows could help lift margins and

reduce risk of calving concerns. Jeremy Hunt reports

FEWER than 5% of UK dairy farmers make a regular assessment of body condition of their cows even though condition scoring as part of routine herd management can lift margins by up to £40 a cow.

"That could mean an extra £40,000 for a 100-cow herd," Volacs David Sutton told Lancashire dairy farmers at a condition scoring demonstration at Barton, Preston.

"Maintaining an up-to-date profile of body condition is a direct reflection on cow performance and diet efficiency. Condition scoring at calving, followed up at each recording for the first three months of lactation and prior to drying off should be incorporated into routine herd management."

While it is tempting to calve cows down carrying extra body fat to compensate for weight-loss during the first stage of lactation, there is a serious risk that enforced mobilisation of body reserves in early lactation could lead to metabolic disorders.

"In addition it is more efficient to produce milk directly from feed than from mobilising body-fat. A cow needs to consume an average 32MJ of energy contained in feed to replace 1kg of body weight when in fact 1kg of bodyweight loss releases only 28MJ of energy," said Mr Sutton.

Farmers should be aiming for lean and keen cows in condition score 2.5-3.0.

At the meeting, local vet Tom Leonard warned of the dangers of allowing cows to calve down carrying too much condition.

"If cows are fat instead of fit at calving there is a greater risk of calving problems, an increase in calf mortality, and damage to nerves in the hind legs. Milk fever, retained foetal membrane and subsequent endometritis can result, leading to a lengthier period between calving and conception.

"Fat cows yield less, are more likely to develop metabolic problems such as fatty liver syndrome and clinical or sub-clinical ketosis," said Mr Leonard.