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|HOW TO BODY CONDITION SCORE DAIRY ANIMALS||
Routinely scoring the body condition of dairy animals can help detect potential problems that might cause a decrease in milk production.
As the production level of a herd increases, body condition scoring becomes more important. A routine program for body condition scoring can help detect potential health problems before they significantly reduce milk production. A herd of cattle that is in good body condition will not only produce more, but also will be less susceptible to metabolic disorders, disease, mastitis and reproductive problems. Underconditioned cows are subject to health problems, and overconditioned cows are subject to calving difficulties, fatty liver syndrome and possible death.
It's important to body score heifers as well as the milking herd. Overconditioned heifers will not breed as easily and will have a higher incidence of calving difficulty. They also may have delayed mammary development that could decrease their lifetime production potential.
Body condition scoring is important to any producer planning to use Bovine Somatotropin (BST). BST should not be administered to any cow that is not in excellent body shape, i.e., not overly fat or overly thin, because it could cause lower milk production, extremely thin cows or fatty liver problems, and perhaps, death of the animal. BST causes a cow to increase the conversion of body fat reserves to milk production. Therefore, if a cow is already thin, BST is not recommended.
Routinely scoring the heifers and milking herd will enable a producer to more effectively use the available feed reserves. Overconditioned heifers or milking animals should be fed less. The feed saved can be used to increase the body condition on those animals under the optimum level. Producers who routinely score their herd will be in a better position to reap the rewards of increased management efficiency.
Anyone can learn to score their herd's body condition. All it takes is a little practice and time. In many cases, it may be better to have an outsider score the herd to obtain an objective score. Perhaps a DHI supervisor, dairy fieldman, veterinarian or neighboring producer would be suited to objectively score the herd. It might even be a good idea for dairy producers to score each other's herd.
Body condition scoring should be done on all animals at least three times during lactation. In large herds score at least 20 cows at each stage to obtain a reasonable estimate of the body condition in the whole herd. The three best times are:
2. during mid lactation, and
3. at the end of lactation so that rations during the dry period can be adjusted so body condition scores are optimum for freshening.
Cattle also may be scored at calving to monitor the effectiveness of the dry cow feeding program.
Heifers also should be scored at least three times before they freshen. Calves should be scored at 6 months of age to be certain they are not gaining weight too quickly or too slowly. Either condition can affect mammary development. Score heifers near breeding age to avoid major reproductive failure. It is also important to check heifers about two months before freshening so nutrient levels can be changed to avoid difficult births and metabolic problems after parturition. A chart of recommended growth rates for replacement heifers is shown in Table I.
Research has shown that Holstein heifers that freshen at 24 months of age produce the most milk in their first lactation if they weigh between 1200 and 1300 pounds soon after freshening. Therefore the growth rates shown in Table I for Holsteins are bare minimums.
How to Body Condition Score Dairy Cows¹<
The body condition score is determined largely by the amount of fat covering the rump and tailhead area. The loin area also is evaluated. The final body condition score can be adjusted one-half score if the loin differs from the rump by more than one point.
Figure 1. Areas of concern in body condition scoring.
Although most body condition scoring is done from directly behind the animal, it is a good idea to observe the cow from the side to get some idea of the depression in the loin area.
To begin scoring, stand directly behind the cow. Make sure the cow is relaxed because muscle tightness will result in inaccurate scoring. Observe the degree of depression around the tailhead. Then score the rump area by placing the hands on the pin bone and pelvic bone and feeling for the amount of fat covering. Figure 1 shows the areas used for scoring and the major bone and muscle groups. Always use the same hand to score cows. Score the rump to the nearest one-half score. Then score the loin area in the same way, using the same hand, also assess this score to the nearest one-half unit.
Table II gives desirable body condition scores for various lactation stages and various heifer ages. Due to normal animal-to-animal variation, you should expect a range in body condition scores among cows in the same lactation stage. However, if your animals differ drastically from the given values, consider modifying their rations.
Table III lists some causes of undesirable scores and possible remedies.
Body condition scoring can be a valuable tool in fine tuning your management skills as well as uncovering potential problems in the herd. If a person rigorously follows a body condition scoring program, many day to day nutrition problems can be avoided.
About the author:
¹Figures are from Body Condition Scoring of Dairy Cattle. R. Parker. Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food. Ontario, Canada, January 1989.
²Tables II and III have been adapted from Body Condition Scoring -- A Management Tool. R.A. Patton, H.F. Bucholtz, M.K. Schmidt and F.M. Hall. Department of Animal Science, Michigan State University, East Lansing Michigan, September 1988.
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