Fall is time to start getting cows in body condition for rebreeding next spring, Extension specialists said at a cow-feeding workshop at the University of Missouri Thompson Farm at Spickard, Mo.

Thin cows, with body condition scores of only 3 or 4 on a 9-point scale, are less likely to be ready to re-breed, workshop participants were told.

Cows should be on a schedule to have a calf and be rebred every 12 months. “A cow has only 85 days to calve, start cycling, and be rebred to stay on a 365-day schedule,” said David Patterson, MU beef reproduction specialist.

Body condition score is one of the biggest factors on whether that will happen, said every speaker at the workshop.

As a rule of thumb, from 80 to 100 pounds of body weight is needed to increase a cow by one body condition score, depending on the cow's frame. Cows should be in a score of 5 or 6 at breeding time.

To illustrate the problem, first-calf heifers from the Thompson Farm herd were shown. The heifers have worked hard all summer, producing milk to wean big calves in September. While raising their first calves, they are still in a growing stage themselves, the specialists pointed out. Some heifers, all of which are carrying their second calves, will have to gain up to 200 pounds by calving time, Jan. 15 to Feb. 15.

“We expect an awful lot from heifers getting ready for their second calves,” Patterson said. For adding needed weight it is important to start early. It's easier to put on weight now, instead of waiting until late winter.

To ease the weight gain, calves are weaned in early fall so the cows can start their recovery, Patterson said. “A lactating cow puts most of her energy into producing milk for her calf.”

K.C. Olson, MU Extension nutritionist, said weight gains prior to calving are less expensive than gains after the calf has been born.

After fall weaning, a cow can quickly pick up 80 to 100 pounds on good fall pasture. Additional weight still must be gained to have the cows ready for breeding.

Adding weight early is important because it will be more difficult to regain weight after the cow has calved next spring and is lactating.

There's a window of two or three months to get the cows in condition, Patterson said.

Gene Schmitz, regional livestock specialist, Princeton, Mo., said, “Don't wait until two weeks before calving to realize the cows are too thin. That doesn't give you enough time to put on needed weight.”

Schmitz said individual cows grazing stockpiled fescue in the fall at Thompson Farm have gained up to 4 pounds per day. Average gains for the herd for November and December has been nearer to 2 pounds a day.

Olson, nutritionist with the Extension Commercial Agriculture program, led the participants through a worksheet on how to calculate feed needed to meet weight requirements for different body condition scores.

The formula takes the estimated amount of weight gain needed, then divides by the number of days before calving. That gives the average daily gain needed.

Olson outlined steps to figure a ration needed for that gain.

“You don't need a computer to do this,” Olson said. “You don't need to call a Ph.D. on the phone. You can do this work with a calculator and a tablet.

“As a nutritionist, I like to think of the least-expensive way to put on those pounds,” Olson said. “It's best to have the hay tested, so you know the starting nutritional value. But, if you don't do that, call your regional livestock specialist and get the numbers off of feeding tables.”

Schmitz and Shawn Deering, Extension livestock specialist at Albany, Mo., grouped cattle in pens to illustrate different body condition scores. They pointed out details on the backbones, ribs, and hipbones to indicate different scores.

“If it looks like you would be hurt on the sharp bones if you bumped into her, she's probably a No. 3. If you can just see a bit of backbone and the three last ribs, she's probably a No. 5,” Schmitz said. The cows should be scored at the time they are pregnancy-checked this fall.