Cows and heifers in optimal condition at calving will have fewer calving issues

Getting females in top shape should be at the top of a producer’s list for calving season preparation. 

A well-conditioned female will typically have an easier time calving, produce better qualities and quantities of colostrum and milk, and breed back faster. 

To set their cows and heifers to succeed, Eldon Cole, livestock field specialist with the University of Missouri Extension, explained producers should start evaluating condition four to six weeks in advance of calving to ensure enough time to help get animals where they need to be in terms of Body Condition Score (BCS). 

“Mature beef cows should be in a 5 to no more than 7 body condition at calving, on the standard 1 to 9 scale,” Andy McCorkill, livestock field specialist with MU Extension, said. “On the bottom end of that, at a 5, you might see a faint outline of the last few ribs, but they won’t be pronounced. hip bone structure will be visible but will have a rounded over appearance, and there won’t be a lot of far carried through the brisket area. A 7 body condition will not have any visible ribs, the hips will be well rounded over and the brisket relatively full looking. Fat pones around the tailhead might be forming but they won’t be excessively large at this point. Each condition score will represent about 75 pounds of additional weight the cow is carrying. Having cows in good shape will not only make it easier on them at calving, they will be more apt to breed back in a timely manner and keep on a 365-day calving interval. 

“For cows calving in late fall to early spring, I like to see them on the heavier side of that 5 to 7 range; fat is stored energy, and it will help them maintain production through poor winter conditions.” 

A calving-related management question that producers will often ask is “should I separate first-calf heifers from mature cows?”

“Definitely, yes,” Cole said.

McCorkill agreed.

“If at all possible, this is the first sort I encourage in the cow herd,” he added.

First-calf heifers have greater nutritional needs than mature cows, since they are still growing themselves. Ensuring proper nutrition can enhance heifers’ colostrum production, Cole noted. Keeping heifers separate from mature cows during calving can give a producer easier access to the group if a heifer needs help her first time giving birth.

As always, producers should consult with their veterinarian to help ensure they are doing everything they can to keep their cattle in top shape heading into calving season.


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