While most farmers could well say beauty – and fatness or thinness – is in the eye of the beholder, the Body Condition Score (BCS) app helps provide them with confirmation.
The app is part of a toolkit developed for farmers by DairyNZ and funded through the levy. The kit also includes a reference book and DVD allowing farmers to self-train.
Recognising there will always be farmers who would prefer to consult a qualified assessor, DairyNZ has also developed a BCS assessor accreditation scheme.
Backed by modern-day research, the BCS system is based on an understanding that dates back more than half a century when farmers began to realise a cow’s live weight did not necessarily accurately reflect the animal’s fat and protein reserves.
While there are lookalikes in other dairy countries, the DairyNZ BCS system has been developed specifically for New Zealand’s pasture-based dairy farming. It's a 10-point approach where one is thin, 10 is fat, and five, at calving, is optimal.
As today’s farmers know full well, BCS is crucial to ensure cows are in the best shape to conceive readily, have easy pregnancies, calve well, and be productive milkers with good resistance to disease conditions.
Too-thin cows are more susceptible to the likes of mastitis and metritis; too fat and they increase their risk of ketosis and being a downer at calving.
Along the way, DairyNZ research has also pointed to too-fat cows losing too much condition in early lactation and for too long. Surprisingly, research also uncovered that cows that are fatter at calving are more likely to have a heifer calf the next year, while thinner cows are more likely to have a bull.
DairyNZ also investigated the effect of feed type and once-aday milking in late lactation on BCS. Results also showed that nutrition in very early lactation has little effect on change in BCS.
Our BCS work is recognised as world-leading. A paper on the subject, written by DairyNZ scientists and published in the Journal of Dairy Science in 2009, is still regarded as the most comprehensive on the topic. It is ranked as one of the journal’s most important, having won an award from the American Dairy Science Association in 2012 for being the most cited.
Want to fine-tune your BCS skills? Visit dairynz.co.nz/bcs
This article was originally published in Inside Dairy November 2017