If cows do not calve in the correct condition, difficult calvings, poor conception rates, high empty rates, and lower milk solids are all likely to occur.
The only real chance to correct body condition is between now and calving.
Target body condition score (BCS) at calving is 3.25. Following the difficult grazing year, and considering the below average silage in yards (average DMD 64%), many farmers will have to feed and manage cows differently this autumn and winter, to achieve the target calving condition.
BCS is a good indicator of long-term energy balance. Other factors such as parasites, lameness, etc, can also have effect, but it is energy that will be most important.
There are three main management issues in changing body condition between now and calving — feed level, length of the dry period, and milking frequency.
Feed level On good quality silage (72% DMD), cows will gain about 0.5 units of body condition over the dry period. On poor quality silage, cows will lose condition (see table of Guideline effects of silage quality on BCS change).
Therefore, meal will be needed to increase body condition, on low quality silage. Feeding an extra 2kg of meal (such as soya hulls) will increase body condition by about 0.25 units, depending on silage quality.
Dry period length Increasing the length of dry period from the standard eight weeks will increase cow body condition on most silages (see table of guideline effects of management options on additional BCS change outside of normal eight-week dry period).
But, for thin cows (less than BCS 2.5) on poor silage, the increase will not be enough, and meal may also be required.
Milking frequency Once a day (OAD) milking will increase BCS by about 0.2 units if practised for seven weeks before drying.
However, the cow/herd must continue to be fed as for twice a day milking.
You will also lose 20% milk for the period you are OAD milking
What to do now.
* Determine silage quality.
* Condition score each cow (run them through a race).
* Have an expected calving date for each cow.
* Decide on individual drying date and feeding level. This winter will be different — many farms will have to use a combination of the above measures.