Since feed costs make up roughly 60% of the cost of a cow-calf operation, different feeding programs can be used to achieve the best reproductive performance with out high costs. Choosing a calving season that is most compatible with your forage program is the first step in maximizing cow condition and reproduction. Understand that the changes that occur in body weight and condition are normal in the production cycle of the cow.
A medium-framed beef cow that is open will gain or lose approximately 75-100 pounds for each body condition score change. For example, a medium-framed beef cow with a BCS 5, weighing 1100 pounds, will be a BCS 3 and weigh approximately 900-950 pounds with a loss of 150-200 pounds and a decrease of two body condition scores.
Moreover, an additional 100 pounds is typically gained during the last trimester of gestation for fetal growth and uterine development. Table 1 shows body condition scores and weight change recommendations for cows achieving a desired BCS of 5-7 90 to 100 days before calving. This is the critical time when the producer has the ability to put condition back on a ‘thin’ cow or restrict feed intake of a ‘fat’ cow.
Maintaining and feeding beef cows to attain a BCS in the optimum moderate range (BCS 5-7) allow beef cows to achieve maximum reproductive performance while feed supplementation costs are held to a minimum.
In most situations, it is not economically feasible to supplement the entire herd if only half of the cows will respond to the higher level of nutrition. Separating cows based on BCS and feeding them accordingly are good managerial strategies. This should be done at or soon after weaning to allow 2 to 5 months of feeding prior to calving.
Achieving a BCS of 5 or more before calving and throughout the production cycle is the key to a profitable cow-calf operation. Many producers waste profits by over-feeding cows in adequate condition when only part of the herd needs extra energy and supplementation.
By sorting and feeding groups based on BCS, the economics of the operation improve. Producers need to pay attention to stocking rates and pasture quality. Overstocking and poor forage quality can lead to ‘thin’ cows.
As research indicates, monitoring cow condition directly impacts the reproductive performance of the herd. As mentioned above, failure to conceive is the most important factor in reducing net calf crop. Keeping cows in adequate condition throughout the production cycle can improve reproductive performance and positively impact the economics of the operation.
The BCS system is relatively easy to learn and can be implemented in any farm situation. Please take the time to learn how to use this system and begin taking advantage of the benefits it has to offer.