24 November 1995

Spring-calvers:Lean ones need feeding up now

By Jonathan Riley

SOME spring calving suckler cows – particularly those calving in early March – need to be fed to increase body condition score now.

So says Dr Basil Lowman of the Scottish Agricultural College, Edinburgh, who warns that many such herds are leaner than normal due to the summer drought.

"Some suckler cows turned out last spring failed to gain weight through the dry summer. If cows are under condition score two now and short of food there could be an increased incidence of downer cows two to three weeks before calving," says Dr Lowman.

"Calving on Mar 1 leaves one month to get cows into the right condition. It is no use panicking in the New Year and over-feeding a heavily pregnant cow in the two months pre-calving when the calf is growing rapidly. This will increase the risk of a high birth weight and calving difficulties.

"Cows need to be slightly fitter two months before calving than you want them to be at calving. That is as lean as possible to minimise calving difficulties, yet fit enough to ensure the cow is right for the mating period," he says.

Independent beef consultant David Allen recommends cows are at condition score 2.5 at calving so that they are at least condition score 2 at turnout.

"Normal feeding policies that provide 62-64MJ of ME a day for a 600kg cow to allow a 0.5kg daily weight loss to take condition score from 3 to 2 over the winter may have to be changed this year," he says.

"When cows are at condition score 2 the ME requirement must be pushed up to 82MJ a day to prevent weight loss.

Dr Allen advises a ration comprising about 3kg DM of silage/cow/day, 1kg rapeseed meal and 1.5kg maize gluten.

"It increases costs but penny pinch now and next years calf crop will be affected," he says.