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Strategies to improve BCS discussed

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

In an Agriculture Today podcast, hosted by Kansas State University (KSU) and dated Sept. 20, KSU Beef Systems Specialist Justin Waggoner explains why fall is a great opportunity to improve condition of spring-calving cows.  

Waggoner discusses several management and grazing techniques producers can use to improve cow body condition scores (BCS) post-weaning, including several nutrient management and feeding strategies for managing thinner cows. 

Nutrient requirements 

Waggoner explains several nutrient requirements for a spring-calving herd and why fall is the most ideal time to take BCS into consideration.  

“As we look at where cows are in terms of their nutrient requirements, they are going to be at their lowest immediately following weaning,” he explains. 

With lower nutrient requirements, post-weaning is a great opportunity to improve BCS before cows reach later stages of gestation, shares Waggoner.  

Additionally, weather can play a big role during the fall, says Waggoner.  

“With very little cold right now, cattle are going to be close to the thermal neutral zone, meaning ranchers are not having to feed cows extra calories to sustain and offset any additional demands of cold weather,” says Waggoner. 

Waggoner suggests producers focus on the age of the cow, but he advocates for distribution of BCS of the herd as a whole.  

Waggoner says, in an ideal situation, producers see a bell-shaped distribution of body condition on cattle, but with thinner cows, this won’t be the case.  

Waggoner encourages producers to group cows together by BSC and recommends different feeding strategies to get cattle back into condition before the winter months.  

Feeding strategies 

“The first step is to wean calves,” shares Waggoner, noting it is critical to reduce nutrient requirements, as well as the energy demand of a cow/calf pair. “The cow’s requirements are relatively low, but the calf’s requirement and growth potential is relatively high.”  

Waggoner suggests separating the pair and focusing on feed requirements separately.  

In recent work conducted at the Ag Research Center in Hays, Kan., Waggoner found when calves were weaned early, and the cows were placed back on dry, native, dormant forage, the BCS of thin cattle improved.  

“Cows on the study would pick up about half a BCS in 45 to 60 days post-weaning and maintain this condition throughout the next calving season,” says Waggoner.    

Forage availability  

With the most recent drought conditions, forage availability can be limited.  

“Cows need adequate supply of forage in front of them,” says Waggoner, noting forage availability certainly is beginning to decline as the fall progresses.  

Waggoner suggests rotating cows to a fresh pasture previously ungrazed for the season.  

“A lot of times, producers underestimate what they can do in terms of diet selectivity with cows,” he adds. 

 With limited forage availability, a supplementation program will be essential in managing BSC.  

“A supplementation program is different from more traditional programs to maintain condition, where the focus is exclusively protein,” Waggoner says, noting the importance of both energy and protein is essential.  

Supplementation strategies 

Finally, Waggoner discusses supplementation products producers can use to manage the body condition of thinner cows.  

“A combination supplement would be more beneficial than a protein supplement at this point,” says Waggoner, explaining there are a variety of products that meet cow requirements. “Traditional range cubes, depending on the formulation, can fit well.”  

Cover crops, such as corn and wheat, can also be utilized. In addition, crop residue may also be a great opportunity for producers to increase body condition distribution.  

“These forages are very high quality,” Waggoner continues. “This is a great opportunity for thin cows to harvest and utilize grain to pick up some condition and for producers to strategically utilize some forage opportunities that might be available.”  

Waggoner concludes, “Coming into the fall where some of those opportunities do present themselves, it can be a great opportunity to put some condition back on some thin cows.”  

Brittany Gunn is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to    

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