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February 9

 The Extension Connection

By Megan Vig

Calving season is or will be happening shortly. During the last trimester of pregnancy, the fetus grows rapidly, placing increasing nutrient demands on the female. In addition, cold weather increases the cow’s nutrient requirements. Body condition (fat cover) plays an important role in successfully wintering beef cows. Late weaning, overstocking, late supplementation, poor parasite control programs and inadequate winter rations all lead to cows in poor body condition.

Why is body condition important? In spring-calving cow herds, body condition score (BCS) at calving is closely related to a number of production parameters in the cow and the newborn calf. Research clearly has demonstrated that spring-calving cows should be at BCS 5 or higher at calving time for optimal reproductive performance the following breeding season. It is recommended that earlier-calving cows (January and February calving) and young cows (2- and 3-year-olds) calve in slightly higher BCS (5.5).

The time to improve BCS is during the fall, when weaning date and supplementation programs can impact body condition positively. Improving BCS following calving is very difficult and expensive because the nutrient demands in early lactation are very high. BCS at calving impacts the percentages of cows in heat 60 and 90 days following calving. Research shows that a greater percentage of cows with BCS 5 or greater at calving will be in heat at the start of the breeding season. If a cow is in heat at the beginning of the breeding season, the greater the chance that she will breed and calve early in the season, resulting in heavier weaning weights the subsequent fall.

Further, the cow’s BCS at calving has an effect on colostral immunoglobulins. Immunoglobulins are proteins that contain antibodies in the colostrum. These immunoglobulins help protect the calf from disease. Cows in higher BCS had more immunoglobulins in their colostrum than thinner cows. More immunoglobulin will result in a greater level of disease protection for the calf.

Research investigating weaning dates and supplementation programs have been conducted. Calves weaned and supplemented starting in mid-September or mid-December have different outcomes for cow weight change and body condition score. Cows that had calves weaned early and received supplements had improved body condition, compared with cows whose calves were weaned later and did not receive supplements. This research indicates weaning and supplementation can be used to improve BCS in cows. Early weaning or early supplementation allowed cows to maintain condition going into the winter. However, late weaning and lack of supplementation for cows nursing calves caused loss in weight and condition. Cows can gain body condition when calves are weaned and proper supplementation is provided. For the rest of the information covered in NDSU Extension Publication, “Preparing for a Successful Calving Season,” please give the Extension Office a call at 797-3312. Source: NDSU Ext. Pub. AS1207.

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