The 50:50 sharemilker realised jumping the fence to spring calving may bring a winter break, but also brought more pressure to “get all your ducks in a row” in a relatively short period. One of those “ducks” was having cow body condition score (BCS) to ideal levels by critical periods, like calving.
“Running a winter milk operation always means you have two of everything – two lots of heifers, milking cows, dry cows, the whole lot, and it can be a constant sort of business with little real break from any of it,” says Tim.
“With winter milk you always had that second chance if a cow did not get in calf. If she didn’t, you could just push her into the autumn mob.”
For Tim, getting help from DairyNZ's BCS programme has been invaluable.
DairyNZ’s BCS assessor certification programme was established to instil greater consistency into BCS assessment – an area understood by many farmers, but one with subjective interpretations of what different scores looked like in the flesh.
With the programme, farmers get standardised assessments by a certified assessor, with figures that represent the same BCS all over New Zealand.
For Tim that assessor proved to be the animal health professional he knew best and trusted the most, his vet Keith Christensen of Levin Horowhenua Vets.
“I quite liked having Keith do the assessment. While as a farmer I may know how to do it, to be really objective you don’t want to have to do it yourself. Having Keith means I have someone who sees a lot of cows, but who is also familiar with my herd.”
Keith’s BCS assessments occur four times a year at times that match critical decision-making periods.
A pre-calving visit helps determine if the BCS 5 for cows and 5.5 for heifers has been achieved.
The herd is then assessed at pre-mating, early summer and early autumn as drying off decisions loom.
“You really need to have four assessments to follow that curve through the season, and they match the periods when you are going to be making transitions throughout the season.”
For Tim, the BCS assessments have helped make the mindset shift from the ‘doubled up’ winter contract supply to the ‘one shot’ seasonal system, where all cows have to be on target at once.
Assessor keeps eye in
For Keith Christensen, being a certified assessor means keeping his BCS ‘eye’ calibrated with an annual reassessment and constant focus on scoring levels.
“It does take a lot of work to stay calibrated. You can’t just do a course and think ‘yep’ I am all good. You have to come back and re-calibrate every year.”
Keith acknowledges BCS assessment can be a challenging process for both the assessor and the farmer.
“BCS is cutting close to what farmers do. However while the results may not always be what you want to hear, the benefits for whole herd health and productivity are significantly greater than expenditure on individual cow problems,” says Keith.
“My experience last year was the farmers who were beating the BCS targets were the ones doing best in their district.”
For Tim, working with Keith is part of his approach to becoming a better farmer.
“I enjoy having Keith here as a consultant. He’s being proactive rather than reactive about the herd’s health and condition. I trust him on what he observes and recommends.”
This article was originally published in Inside Dairy March 2015