SEDALIA, Mo. – Many articles on winter feeding programs for beef cows highlight the need to forage test the hay supply. Other articles focus on describing body condition scoring (BCS) the cowherd. How do these two topics overlap to provide a daily scorecard of how your cowherd is performing on the ration you are providing?
A quick refresher on BCS is in order, not to insult anyone’s intelligence, but to set the stage for monitoring the winter-feeding program.
Body condition scoring of beef cattle is a 1 to 9 scale with 1 being emaciated and 9 being obese. Our target calving BCS for mature beef cows is 5 to 6. This keeps our herd on target for a BCS of 5 at the start of the breeding season.
When evaluating an animal, a BCS of 5 means the ribs and backbone are not visible, but fat deposits around the base of the tail head are not present. Personally, when I begin to see fat deposits around the tail head, I score those animals a 6.
Now is a good time to evaluate the BCS of your herd. Why? If body condition needs to be added before calving, time is running out to accomplish that goal. From a dietary perspective, calories add body condition, and concentrated sources of calories are provided by grain and grain by-products.
Consider the following scenario. To develop an example winter feeding program, I used a hay test received in the office to determine forage quality of the hay supply. Total digestible nutrients (TDN) of the hay was 51% and crude protein tested 8.5%. The estimated calving date was March 15.
Let’s now bring in the aspect of body condition at calving. The target BCS at calving was 5.5. If current BCS is 5.5, very little is needed in the way of additional energy. Approximately two pounds of corn will maintain that level of condition on the cow herd, provided there are very few days of extreme weather conditions.
If current BCS is 5.0, the goal is to add a moderate amount of condition prior to calving, so corn supplementation rate jumps to about 4 pounds per day.
If current BCS is 4.5, one full BCS needs to be added before calving, which increases the corn supplementation rate to approximately 6 pounds per day. No additional protein was necessary in any of these scenarios.
Take the time now to make an honest evaluation of the body condition of your cowherd. Sometimes, it is helpful to have another set of eyes evaluate your herd. Armed with a current hay test and BCS information, a cost-effective winter feeding program can be developed to meet your herd’s nutritional demands. The performance of that feeding
program can be monitored by on-going observation of the herd’s condition, and adjustments can be made as necessary.
This may mean sorting off thin cows and feeding them differently than more adequately conditioned animals. The idea is to target nutrient supplementation to the animals that need it. This is an effective strategy, especially with high grain and supplement prices.
If you have questions or would like assistance with hay testing, interpretation of hay test results, body condition scoring, or winter feeding program development, contact me at the Extension Center in Sedalia at (660) 827-0591 or your local Extension Livestock Field Specialist.
— Gene Schmitz, Missouri Extension