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Body condition score system helps manage cows, heifers for calving

Pregnancy-checking cows is an important management practice, but other herd management you do now will affect not only the dams but also the calves - in some cases, all the way to the packer.

Researchers continue to learn more details about the long-term implications of sound management up to and including calving. The following advice will help producers avoid problems at calving time and beyond.

First, keep an eye on body condition. Most years producers can do well when their mature cows calve with a body condition score (BCS) of 5.

This assumes the cow doesn't lose much condition from then until breeding season - a risk mainly where cows calve in February and March but the warm-season grasses don't start coming until April or May.

If the cow does slip to a 4, you are more likely to see delayed rebreeding or she will show up open at pregnancy checking time.

Heifers, because they are still growing, need better nutrition and a higher BCS at calving. They need to be at 85 percent of their expected mature weight by then or have a BCS of 6.

There is a pretty narrow window with two-year-olds. If a heifer calves at BSC of 5 or less, she will be slow to return to estrus or her rebreeding performance will be disappointing.

If she gets much fleshier than a 6, she may have deposited enough fat in the birth canal to increase calving difficulties.

Don't even consider the theory of underfeeding heifers so they will have lighter calves and a lower risk of calving difficulty. Research studies show that decreasing either energy or protein in an effort to alleviate calving difficulty does not work.

Animal scientists are now exploring the effect that a heifer's BCS at calving has on the quality of her colostrum - and thus the survivability of her calf.

Colostrum from a heifer is less rich than that from a mature cow in the immunoglobulins which provide passive immunity until the calf's own immune system develops.

In addition, heifers that calve at a lower BCS generally give less colostrum.

Arkansas producers who are unsure of how to use the BCS system can find help at their local county Extension offices. A publication entitled Chute Side Reference to Body Condition Scoring is available. It contains color pictures of each typical body condition score from 1 to 9 and is an excellent reference guide.

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