BeefTalk: Give Special Care to
Cows that will be three years
old. They Need it
By Kris Ringwall, Extension Beef Specialist,
NDSU Extension Service
Probably the most difficult position in a cow herd is the first calf heifer.
As she weans her first calf, she is two-and-one-half years old. She will be
three years old at her next calving and the youngest producing cow in the herd.
She is youthful, but she is also low on the pecking order.
After a summer of having room to run, she finds herself with all the old boss
cows and wondering where to turn. Her life gives new meaning to stress: facing
down mature fully grown cows when they are hungry, fighting for room to lay down
on bedding, etc. Old cows out-weigh the first calf heifer by 220 pounds (about
17 percent) and have more energy reserve in terms of body condition.
Typical first calf heifers have a condition score of 4.9 while your mature
cows will average 5 or more. Factor experience into the equation for the old
cows and it is easy to see why the coming three-year-old needs special
No one wants to run heifers with old cows. The same needs to be true for the
first-calf heifer that is coming up on three years of age. The heifer may never
be any thinner until she turns 11. Statistics from North Dakota CHAPS producers
going back to 1979 show those first-calf heifers (two-and-half-year-olds as they
wean their first calves) are always the lightest in the fall, coming in at 1,082
pounds. Fall is the most logical time to weigh cows and that is the weight which
The numbers show the disadvantages for the younger cows. The weights and
condition scores are: two-year-olds weighed 1,082 lbs. with a score of 4.9,
three-year-olds weighed 1,184 with a score of 5, four-year-olds weighed 1,255
with a score of 5, five-year-olds weighed 1,279 with a score of 5.1,
six-year-olds weighed 1,301 with a score of 5.2, and the seven-year-olds weighed
1,304 with a score of 5.2.
Cows continue to grow until they reach seven years of age. Body condition is
more constant and levels off a year earlier at six years of age. The important
point to remember is that cows are not fully grown as heifers and actually have
seven years of growth before they start to decrease in weight. Cows slowly work
themselves up to a peak weight at seven years of age and then start to lose
weight until they leave the herd. Fourteen-year-old cows weigh the same as
three-year-old cows in the fall of the year.
Body condition is held more constant and six-, seven- and eight-year-old cows
all have similar body condition scores. However, at 11 years of age, cows drop
back to body condition scores more typical of two-year-old cows. Numbers show
that young cows and old cows need to be treated similarly and fed separate from
the rest of the herd to maximize performance.
There are few studies detailing the management of old cows for calf
production. Most old cow studies are geared to white or yellow fat, but that is
another story. Keep on sorting, itís worth the effort.
May you find all your ear tags.
Your comments are always welcome at www.BeefTalk.com
For more information, contact the North Dakota Beef Cattle Improvement
Association, 1133 State Avenue, Dickinson, ND 58601 or go to www.CHAPS2000.COM
on the Internet. In correspondence about this column, refer to BT0015.
Source: Kris Ringwall, (701) 483-2045, firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor: Tom Jirik, (701) 231-9629, email@example.com
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