TOO much good grass is feeding too many 'over-fit' cows – and as a result, the number of caesarean calvings is sky-rocketing, according to Scotland’s Farm Advisory Service.

Experts are advising farmers that managing their cattle's body conditioning scores is 'massively' important when it comes to reducing the number of cattle that will need veterinary intervention when giving birth.

Senior beef consultant at Scotland's Rural College, Dr Basil Lowman, explained: "Beef herds are being hit hard, but so are the dairy ones that go out to the grass.

"I know of a dairy herd that had nine caesareans in a month, and a beef one that has already had six – and that's well before you're getting right into the swing of calving.

"It's like all of these things, a combination of factors have come into play – last years' great autumn meant that cattle came in later, in great condition and they went out to a good spring, still very fit.

"This causes fatness in a cow's pelvic canal, so she struggles to calve, but as well as that – like in humans – muscles with fat on them tire quicker, so a fat cow will run out of steam quicker when she's calving."

Dr Lowman continued: "The immediate problem is for cows in suckler herds calving this autumn, but there are possibly more numbers-wise being affected in dairy herds. Spring-calvers that are just pregnant could also end up too fat next year. It takes an awful lot longer to lose fat than it does to put it on.

"You need to think about slimming things down as soon as possible. Cows need to have their food levels tightened and the best option is to wean their calves and put them out onto tough grazing."

He also discussed more extreme measures: "Another thing to potentially think about is the induction of calving. By doing it, you could have a cow calve maybe a week earlier, so the calves are smaller and it would also mean that you could plan and concentrate calvings into a clear day or two, meaning that staff are more prepared and things can be made easier on cows!"

Other management tips to avoid calving problems include:

• All cows must be weaned no later than three weeks pre-calving to ensure they produce sufficient colostrum;

• An alternative option is to wean cows early, put their calves on to aftermaths and heavily graze dry cows on poor quality pastures. As a rough guide, stocking rates should be double normal numbers;

• Try to force cows to have as much exercise as possible – for example, position water troughs away from feed supplies;

• In extreme cases, consider housing cows. Rations should supply around 70 MJ ME/cow/day containing at least 10% CP in the dry matter and minerals. As soon as cows have calved they can be turned back outside to graze;

• In all cases, try to provide additional magnesium for the last month of pregnancy. This might be most easily supplied with a low-energy magnesium block/lick

• In herds with a long calving period, it may be sensible to split them on expected date of calving and for example house the early calvers and keep later calvers outside and delay weaning them.