Ask the vet: Getting beef cows in right condition for calving

Q. Our spring calvers have done well over the summer and will be overfat at housing.

This presents the opportunity to reduce feed costs and use cow body reserves before calving, but how quickly can I get this weight off and when should I stop to avoid effecting calf development?

A. Many farms will be in the same position this year with it having been a great year for grass growth; how to manage this though needs a little bit of thought as there is not a prescriptive answer.

It is important not to strip body condition from your cows too quickly, especially in the last month of gestation.

It will be more beneficial if they are in good body condition now to hold them there with a maintenance-only ration over the winter.

It is therefore important to determine what the maintenance requirement is for your cows and limit energy intake to this to avoid over spending on food.

They still need adequate dry matter intakes, so diluting out energy levels by using lower nutritive-value forages such as straw is important; as is assessment of feeding methods when limiting intakes to ensure even access, otherwise some will lose condition and others will continue to put it on.

Speaking with a trained nutritionist would be good value for money as they will be able to advise on the best ration for your situation taking into account feeding methods available and forages to hand.

If your cows are over conditioned now and you have forages to hand, then reduce intakes to a maintenance level and keep it there.

There are certainly cost savings to be made by not feeding expensive supplements if they already have the body condition they need.

Peter Aitken is a senior vet surgeon at Westpoint Vets, Leighton Buzzard


Ask the vet is a regular feature where readers’ questions are answered by vets at Westpoint Veterinary Group.

Advice given is based on the information provided and cannot necessarily apply to situations where other factors exist.

If the advice required relates to a specific animal or disease problem the reader should contact their own vet or adviser with appropriate knowledge of the particular circumstances.