Replacement Heifer BCS

Calving BCS is the key to young cow success


Nov 27, 2018

Most areas of the Southern Plains have had adequate summer forage to allow pregnant replacement heifers to be in excellent body condition going into late fall and winter. Now producers are faced with the challenge of maintaining body condition on the replacement heifers through the calving season and into next spring.

A first-calf heifer’s body condition score (BCS) at calving is the key to her success in the herd. Body condition (or amount of fatness) is evaluated by a scoring system that ranges from 1 (severely emaciated) to 9 (very obese).

Research datasets have shown conclusively that young cows that calve in thin body condition but regain weight and condition going into the breeding season do not rebreed at the same rate as those that calve in good condition and maintain that condition into the breeding season.

The following table from Missouri researchers illustrates the number of days between calving to the return to heat cycles depending on body condition at calving and body condition change after calving.

Notice that none of the averages for cows that calved in thin body condition were recycling in time to maintain a 12-month calving interval. Cows must be rebred by 85 days after calving to calve again at the same time next year. This data clearly points out that young cows that calve in thin body condition (BCS=3 or 4) cannot gain enough body condition after calving to achieve the same rebreeding performance as 2-year old cows that calve in moderate body condition (BCS = 5.5) and maintain or lose only a slight amount of condition.

The moral of this story is: “Young cows must be in good (BCS = 5.5 or better) body condition at calving time to return to estrus cycles soon enough after calving to maintain a 365-day calving interval.”

Oklahoma scientists used 81 Hereford and Angus x Hereford heifers to study the effects of body condition score at calving and post-calving nutrition on rebreeding rates at 90- and 120-days post-calving. Heifers were divided into two groups in November and allowed to lose body condition or maintain body condition until calving in February and March. Each of those groups was then re-divided to either gain weight and body condition post-calving or to maintain body condition post-calving.

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Calving BCS is the key to young cow success - chart
Predicted number of days (d) from calving to first heat as affected by body condition score at calving and body condition score change after calving in 2-year-old beef cows. (Body condition score scale: 1 = emaciated; 9 = obese)

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Calving BCS is the key to young cow success
Figure 1. Post-calving body condition change of heifers with body condition >5 or <5 at calving and fed to gain or maintain weight. 120-Day pregnancy rates (percent) are indicated on the right side of the graph lines.

Figure 1 illustrates the change in body condition and weight of heifers that calved in a body condition score greater than 5 or those that calved in a body condition score less than or equal to 4.9. The same pattern that has been illustrated in the other experiments is manifest clearly with these heifers. Thin heifers that were given ample opportunity to regain weight and body condition after calving actually weighed more and had greater body condition by eight weeks than heifers that had good body condition at calving and maintained their condition into and through the breeding season.

However, the rebreeding performance (on the right side of the legend of the graph) was significantly lower for those that were thin (67 percent) at parturition compared to heifers that were in adequate body condition at calving and maintained condition through the breeding season (91 percent).

Again, post-calving increases in energy and therefore weight and body condition gave a modest improvement in rebreeding performance, but the increased expense was not adequately rewarded. The groups that were fed to “maintain” post-calving condition and weight received 4 pounds of cottonseed meal supplement (41 percent crude protein) per day.  The cows in the “gain” groups were full-fed a complete growing ration (12 percent CP). Both groups had free choice access to grass hay.

The improvement in reproductive performance (67 percent pregnant vs. 36 percent pregnant) of the thin 2-year-old heifers may not be enough to offset the large investment in post-calving feed costs. Pre-calving feed inputs required to assure the heifers were in adequate body condition at calving would be substantially less than the costs per head that was spent on the thin heifers after calving.

Other datasets have shown conclusively that cows that calve in thin body condition but regain weight and condition going into the breeding season do not rebreed at the same rate as those that calve in good condition and maintain that condition into the breeding season. Make certain that the supplement program is adequate for your young cows to be in good body condition this spring. — Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University emeritus extension animal scientist

Oklahoma State University emeritus extension animal scientist

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