POOR WEATHER over the last year has had a major impact on spring calving suckler cows throughout the country, with many struggling to maintain condition.

A poor grazing season in 2012 meant that cows went into the winter in poorer condition than farmers would have normally liked. In many cases, cows have been out wintered in heavily damaged and saturated fields and fed on poorer quality forage and straw, which was made in difficult harvesting conditions.

The wet conditions have also created the potential for a greater challenge from liver fluke.

The result is that many cows, calving from now through to the end of spring, have body condition scores which are well below average. To try to improve the body condition of these cows by stepping up feed before calving would potentially only increase calf size thus increasing the risk of difficult calving.

In nutritional terms, the advice is to be seriously good to these cows post calving, helping milk production, improving body condition and getting the cow into 'positive energy' status to significantly improve fertility status.

Differences in nutrition account for most variation in reproductive performance between herds and between animals within the herd. When working with cows on a daily basis, it is often difficult to notice that over a six to nine-month period, they have gradually been losing body condition.

To illustrate this, the table on the right shows the influence of body condition at calving on conception rates.

There are several approaches which can provide a good nutritional solution to improving condition. On the compound side, feeding such as Harbro Hill Cow Breeder rolls gives a good supply of energy, protein and a magnesium level of 1.5% – these can be fed up to 2kg per head per day.

If stocks allow, increase the level of home-grown forage and cereals, particularly to the thinner cows but bear in mind that these may be lower in feed value this year due to the poor growing season.

If there is a shortfall in protein levels with silages and cereals on farm, look to adding wheat distillers' dark grains and provide a balanced mineral supplement such as Grampian Super Suckler SEC. An alternative would be to use Champion Cattle 35 pellets, containing a small level of urea, which will aid fibre breakdown in lower D value higher fibre forages.

Most compounds like this are fully mineralised but some additional magnesium source should be supplied if cows are outside. For those fed outside, use high energy or high-mag buckets, which provide energy, protein and minerals.

A final nutritional point is that thin cows require a good supplementation of minerals pre and post calving to top up the requirements caused by the loss of body condition.