As we gear up for calving season, now is a good time to consider what information we should be recording in our calving books. The key is not what we weigh, measure, collect, spray, or write down. It’s what we do with the information months later that really counts.
In addition to some key information such as calving date, calf sex, and birth weight, here may be some new columns to include in your calving book. Ultimately, accumulating this information should aid in making more informed decisions about the future of your cow herd.
Cow disposition score – Typically, this is recorded as a score of 1 to 6 with a 1 being maintaining a very docile demeanor whereas a 6 indicates a very aggressive temperament towards her calf, other animals, or people. While a cow’s score may vary the other 364 days a year, her disposition score on the day she calves when you need to collect information on her and her calf is the most important one.
While it is easy to make the decision to cull a bad-tempered female who raises a poor calf, the decision might be harder for a cow who has a bad attitude at the time of calving but still raises a good calf.
However, don’t forget that temperament is a moderately heritable trait, and high-stress animals have poorer feed conversion and performance and result in increased stress of the owner.
Despite how it feels in the real world sometimes, there is research data that suggests bad-tempered females have lower artificial and natural conception rates compared to more docile females. Not to mention the huge safety concern these high-headed females are.
Cow body condition score (BCS) – This is typically a score of 1 to 9 in beef cows, with a score of 5 and 6 being ideal for mature beef cows at the timing of calving. There are countless online resources to help self-assess your herd’s condition. What many producers don’t realize is that BCS has a direct correlation to colostrum quality and quantity produced. Both too thin (BCS at 4 or lower) and too heavy (BCS of 7 or higher) cows produce less amounts of lower-quality colostrum.
Winter hair coats often hide fat cover, so BCS collected this time of the year tend to be overestimated. However, monitoring and recording BCS near calving, breeding, and weaning allows to assess milking ability and may help explain poor calf performance or cow reproductive success later in life.
Cow udder score – This includes two scores on 1 to 9 scale : teat size and udder suspension. Scores should be recorded within 24 hours of calving to be most representative. Scores approaching 1 indicate very poor, large teats and poor udder structure. On the flip side, higher scores approaching 9 indicate very tight udders and small teat size which may also be problematic for newborn calves to find and latch onto . Both traits are moderately heritable, so having this information is a great tool to make progress in udder quality through selection. (For more information on udder and teat scoring, click on the following link: University of Nebraska: A Guide to Udder and Teat Scoring Beef Cows)
Calf vigor – This can be monitored or scored based on several ways but is something that needs to be measured within the first couple of hours after birth. This is likely one of those measurements that may not be very useful, unless you have a major problem. Coupling the percentage or timing within calving season of lethargic calves with cow BCS, udder score, and other data may help identify whether there is an environmental, herd health, or nutritional issue that is the underlying problem. Likewise, you may find that a certain cow family or a sire has a larger risk of poor calf vigor compared to others.
Treatment and supplementation – Noting which calves required treatment for navel infection, assistance getting started, or colostrum supplementation will be helpful to monitor calf sickness and performance later in life. If persistent in collection over the years, this data may be useful in identifying cow families that are at risk for increased calf sickness which may indicate poor mothering abilities or colostrum antibodies production. In addition to being helpful when troubleshooting issues later in calf life, records of all vaccinations and treatments should be kept for at least two years in order to follow Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) guidelines.
Regardless of what you choose to write down, culling cows, buying bulls, and selecting replacement females should always be based on informed decisions. The calving book is a tremendous tool to enhance profitability.
Written by: Erika Lundy and Patrick Wall, Iowa State Extension Beef Specialists, and posted here with lead author’s permission. “This article first appeared in the Iowa Cattleman magazine.”