There has been a lot of negative press about the role of the suckler cow in the last number of months.
It is my view point that she still has a big role to play on a lot of the farms in the west of Ireland especially as she can make best use of the type of grass/forage that is grown on those farms. But to put it into context she needs to be managed properly. This is where good body condition scoring comes into play and this will help to reduce the cost of keeping her and reduce calving difficulty at the same time.
Body condition scoring at this time of year allows you to divide your cows up into the group they belong in. Body condition scoring works on a scale of 0-5 where 0 is extremely thin and 5 extremely fat. Condition score and group the cows in pens based on their Body Score Condition. Ideally split the herd into three groups: (1) lean (thin cows; BSC < 2), (2) Target (BSC = 2.25-3.5) and (3) fat (over conditioned cows: BCS>3.5)
For spring calving cows the score should be 3 at weaning (mid-pregnancy), 2.5 at calving time and a minimum of 2 at mating time. For autumn calving cows the body condition score should be 2 in mid-pregnancy, 3 at calving and 2.5 at mating (bulling).
Feeding strategy is based on two stages. For the first three months of housing (stage 1), each group will have a different feeding requirement with the aim to have the fat and thin cows back on track 50 to 60 days before calving.
For the final two months (stage 2) the entire herd can be penned together and fed the same diet up to calving. Importantly a change in body condition score/live weight should only take place in mid pregnancy as under or over feeding the cow in the last 2 months can lead to calving difficulties in over fed cows or in the case of thin cows it can lead to weak calves with poor vigour at birth.
The key points are:
1 – Body condition score your cows
2 – Put your cows into the relevant groups
3 – Feeding should not be restricted in the last two months of pregnancy
4 – Proper feeding will lead to less calving difficulties and better conception rates after calving
5 – It is important the cow is working for you and not you working for the cow
6 – There is still a role for suckler cows in the future provided they are management properly
Teagasc provides a Local Advisory and Education service to farmers. They have offices based in Roscommon Town (Tel: 090 6626166), Castlerea (Tel: 094 9620160) and Longford Town (Tel: 043 3341021), You can find us on Facebook @Teagascroscommonlongford