Farmers warned of overweight cows

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Experts from Scotland’s Rural College are warning livestock farmers that one downside of last year’s excellent summer is the risk their cows are overweight as they approach calving time.

The cold spring was followed by a warm season with good grass growth producing excellent quality silage and hay. If farmers have not adjusted their feeding regime to account for this increased nutrition, overfat cows could have caving problems.

It is something well known beef specialist Dr Basil Lowman, of SAC Consulting, has noticed among herds he has visited this winter.

“Some producers are concerned about the condition of their cows and the potential for a much higher risk of calving difficulties when calving starts in a month’s time,” he says.

As all producers of suckled calves know, difficulties at calving time are often linked to both the genetics of the cow and her calf or, more importantly, by the management of the cow and her condition at calving.

Producers agree that calving difficulties incur major costs, for example from the calf that is slow to get going and hence is at more risk of disease and even death. For the cows, calving difficulties can lead to increased infertility and a larger number not in calf. In extreme cases, it can lead to the premature culling of cows at well below their potential market value.

The advice from Dr Lowman is for suckled calf producers with herds due to calf this spring to set aside an hour, preferably with a friend, neighbour or their vet, to walk among their cows and discuss how fit they really think they are. The objective is to identify which cows, if any, need to be slimmed down urgently.

Dr Lowman said: “If there are a proportion of obese cows, with rings of fat clearly visible around their tail-head then these should be drawn out into a separate group and put onto a well balanced, straw-based ration to encourage them to lose as much fat as possible prior to calving.

“This may seem just extra costs and hassle but compared with severe calving difficulties, caesareans or even casualties it will be time and money extremely well invested.”

It is essential that the protein and mineral/vitamin intake of the cow is maintained, otherwise their rumen will become impacted and they will die, so feeding only straw is not possible.