hen you assess the body condition of your cattle herd – don’t leave out the bulls.
“It’s not just something we do on cows,” Eldon Cole, University of Missouri Extension livestock specialist at the Lawrence County office in Mt. Vernon, told Ozarks Farm & Neighbor. “We body condition score bulls, too, because they need a little bit of flesh on their bones in order to be able to go out and breed a bunch of cows in a hurry. The bull typically is not going to be able to graze as many hours a day as that cow might be, especially if he’s out there with a big bunch of cows, seeking them all out and trying to get them bred.”
For both cows and bulls, body condition is scored on a one to nine scale; Cole described a “one” as “being extremely emaciated and weak — in other words, you can just about count every bone in their body, and she may weave when she walks.” A “nine” is extremely obese; in the case of a cow, she may not have suckled a calf that year, or for several years. But Cole said most of the animals he sees are between four and seven; on a four, the cow’s ribs are usually visible. “You may see a little bit of sharp spine on her,” said Cole. “Right in there at the hip bone area is what we call the loin edge, there are little spinous processes in there that you can see very easily on a four.”
If a cow has a score of four or less at the time her calf is weaned, that gives the producer three or four months to build her back up. Each point of score is roughly 80 lbs., so that’s what she has to add to make the difference between a four and a five. Cole recommended sorting cows whose calves are newly weaned and separating those with adequate body condition scores from the fours and threes, which he said “are likely to be older, or they may be real young cows that have been suckling their first calf.”
The lower condition cows need to be put on better rations, which could be as simple as giving them higher-quality forage. Cole said, “You would be surprised how much condition they will put on if you just give them some good grass legume hay, or something that has a higher TDN (total digestible nutrients) level on it — say, something in the neighborhood of a 60 percent TDN. But it could also be concentrate feeds, like a corn mixture or a byproduct like dried distillers grains, soybean hulls or corn gluten feed.” Cole acknowledged those feeds can be pretty expensive, but noted, “Keeping that cow in too thin a body condition is very expensive, because if she calves in that rundown condition she will not milk as well, and her calf will probably not receive an adequate amount of colostrum to give it a lot of good antibody-fighting ability. So it’s kind of a lose-lose situation if you underfeed them, and they will not come back in heat to be bred back for that next calf if they calve in that four body condition score.”
If improved rations do not result in weight gain, look for something else that’s out of place. “That’s probably one of our weaknesses that we may have with a lot of our cattle management; there are a lot of folks that are first time or first-generation cattle owners, and they just don’t know what to look for.”  He recommended a producer seek out the advice of a veterinarian or another experienced professional to determine whether the problem could be parasites, disease or a reaction to endophyte-infected pastures.
Getting back to the bulls, Cole noted they could be chronically thin for a number of reasons; if it’s due to genetic makeup, you would not want them reproducing in your herd, but if it’s management, that can be corrected. And, he said, “More often than not, management is more of a factor in an animal’s performance than is the genetic side of it.” He had just completed a round of bull testing, and said a genetics company had been present to take samples. “They can analyze through DNA checks a lot of the genetic potential that these cattle have,” he said. “One of these days that will get fine-tuned to the point where we’ll really be able to do a lot of analyzing of the cattle without having to put them on a feed test, measure milk production and do some of the scoring that we do now. We’re kind of in the infancy of the DNA checking on cattle, but it’s moving along quite rapidly and is becoming more accepted all the time.”


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