Research has shown that body condition is directly related to reproductive performance and thus profitability in cow calf operations. Research from the University of Georgia confirms that thin cows do not rebreed well. Cattle need to breed back within 80 days of calving in order to maintain a yearly calving interval. A summary of UGA studies showed that only about half of thin cows were cycling by 80 days after calving, while over 80% of cows in ideal or fat condition were cycling within this 80-day window.
Also, it was shown that thin heifers had lower pregnancy rates than thin mature cows. Studies at Clemson University concluded that first-calf heifers that calved in ideal body condition had heavier calves without increased dystocia than those in thin body condition. Other studies also show that pregnancy rates improve dramatically as body condition scores increase from thin to ideal. Thin cows tend to rebreed later, so they calve late into the calving season and thus their calves are youngest at weaning. In addition, thin cows have less energy reserves to produce milk and as a result tend to raise calves that grow slower (See Table 1). Economically, thin cows raise lighter calves that make less money than the calves of cows in ideal condition.
Practical use of body condition scores
By identifying the body condition of cattle within your herd, you can make informed decisions on a supplement program designed to maximize profitability. Cows will not breed at acceptable rates without adequate body fat. It is also difficult, if not impossible, to increase a cow’s body fat stores during lactation. It is not uncommon for a productive cow to drop in body condition during lactation. For this reason, it is imperative that cows calve at or above ideal body condition in order to have enough body reserves to rebreed quickly. It is often much cheaper to maintain a cow in ideal condition than it is to allow her to become too thin and then try to gain weight back or to allow her to remain too thin.
What affects body condition?
Overall quality and quantity of available forages, parasite load, diseases, genetics, weather and dominance status all affect a cow’s body condition score. The collective body condition of a beef herd changes throughout the year. Cattle tend to be in highest body condition in mid to late summer and then slowly decline throughout the winter with their lowest body condition in late winter or early spring. It is very difficult as well as expensive to put weight on cows in winter or early spring months. Therefore it is best to supplement to maintain ideal body condition throughout the winter rather than to try to regain lost weight later in the year.
What helps cattle maintain body condition?
During winter months, most cattle producers rely primarily on hay as feed. Because hay quality varies so much, anything we can do to increase the efficiency of hay digestion is going to help productivity.
Low quality forages contain high amounts of fiber. Protein is key to optimal fiber digestion and intake. Ruminally available protein is a limiting factor in fiber fermentation. Protein is a key component for microbial adhesion to fiber which is needed to begin the fiber digestion process. Protein is also needed for the enzymes responsible for breaking down fiber. Additionally, inadequate dietary protein depresses animal performance, in turn, depressing appetite which further hinders animal performance. For all of the stated reasons, protein supplementation improves forage digestion and increases forage intake. Research shows that it doesn’t take much protein to enact a positive influence. Supplementation with limited amounts (less than 2 pounds) of a high protein supplement increased digestibility and intake of lower quality forages in numerous studies.
For more information about the CRYSTALYX® line of protein supplements and to download the free CRYSTALYX® Body Condition Score App, visit www.crystalyx.com.
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