It can be difficult to source and provide feed for livestock in tight times, and when you see your dairy cows every day it can be difficult to notice when they are losing weight.
However, one of the most important requirements for good animal welfare is sufficient feed and water and it is vital to make sure cows don’t lose too much weight.
In addition to risks to their health and welfare, cows that are too thin will have lower fertility and milk production.
Body condition scoring at drying off and calving is a good way to check that your management is meeting your cows’ needs.
Body condition scoring is a standardised visual assessment of the amount of fat and muscle around the hips, tail and pins of a cow.
Unlike live-weight, body condition score is not affected by body size, gut fill or pregnancy.
In Australia, a one to eight scoring system is used for dairy cows to provide a common language for talking about body condition, where one is extremely thin and eight is extremely fat.
Even in large herds, it is only necessary to body condition score 70 cows out of each management group to give a representative sample.
You can then calculate an average condition score and the percentage of cows that are too fat or too thin.
At calving and drying off you would want to see no more than 15 per cent of cows (that’s 10 out of 70 cows scored) below score 4.5 or above score 5.5.
The best time for cows to gain condition is in late lactation but if you find more than 15 per cent of cows are too thin at drying off, there is still time for cows to gain condition before calving.
Feed inputs can be increased for either the whole herd or a target group, making sure all cows have equal access to the feed provided, or stocking rates can be reduced.
If more than 15 per cent are too thin after calving, then you may need to separate your thin cows for preferential feeding.
All owners and persons in charge of livestock in Victoria have legal obligations to protect the welfare of animals under their care and supervision, including in challenging times such as dry seasonal conditions.
Allowing livestock to become malnourished is not acceptable and may constitute an offence under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986.
For more information on body condition scoring for dairy cows, visit the Dairy Australia website www.dairyaustralia.com.au and use the terms ‘body condition’ in the search tool, or you can phone Sarah Chaplin at Agriculture Victoria on 0439 275 896.
For the latest on all assistance and information available on managing for and during dry seasons, visit: agriculture.vic.gov.au/dryseasons or call 136 186.
- Agriculture Victoria development specialist, Dr Sarah Chaplin