Autumn Feeding Your Cows

What do we want to achieve before the end of May?

We want to have the cows at Body Condition Score (BCS) 4.5 by the end of May because in most wintering systems cows don't put on more than 0.5 BCS in a decent winter of 7-8 weeks. It is important to be honest about the results you normally achieve, if the herd does not gain condition it might be better to dry the cows off in BCS 5. Drying cows off earlier, for example April, to give them more time to put on BCS is hardly an option these days. We need the milk in the vat to pay the bills.

A better option is to put the light/young herd on once a day milking and still feed them well, or if they are still milking well, feed them extra meal or grain in the shed so they can keep milking and put sufficient condition on at the same time; eat your cake and have it too. For example, if the cows normally get 2kg in the shed per day, 1kg extra (3kg per cow per day) over April and May would be sufficient to put on 0.5 BCS. Splitting the main herd to a lower condition herd and a better condition herd, gives you the opportunity to preferentially feed the lower condition herd more meal or grain in the shed, or the whole crop of maize silage or palm kernel meal in the paddock or on the feed pad.

Are all MegaJoules ME used the same for condition gain?

The higher protein levels in autumn pastures still make it a good feed to milk on, but less suitable for condition gain. Feeds high in carbohydrates (starch & sugar) like grain, dairy pellets such as Summermilk pellet, maize silage and whole crop silage (only when the quality is good and the soluble carbohydrate level are good) give the best gains.

Why worry about condition score of your herd?

Some people would argue that it is easier from a management point of view to have skinny cows all year round, but they forego the benefits of calving cows at BCS 5 and heifers at BCS 5.5 which means:

  • Higher peak production in early lactation - which sets the cows up for higher production for the rest of the season.
  • Cows cycle earlier: DairyNZ research showed that cows in BCS 5 compared with cows in BCS 4 started cycling on average 7-days earlier. This has a significant impact on the six weeks in-calf rate.
  • Most farmers get job satisfaction by seeing well fed stock in good condition, but let's not forget our customers in New Zealand and abroad: happy, well-fed stock in good condition are a great advertisement for our milk.