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Body Condition Score, Liver Fluke & Immunity

Body condition score

Body Condition Score, Liver Fluke & Immunity


Body Condition Score (BCS) of cows is a key management tool in ensuring that Negative Energy Balance (NEB), an unavoidable condition in early lactation, is controlled and minimised. BCS monitoring throughout the year allows the farmer to actively select and monitor cows that experience an excessive increase or decrease in BCS throughout the year. Having cows in uniform BCS at dry-off (3-3.25), calving (3-3.25), and at breeding (2.75-3) ensures fewer problem animals and improved fertility performance.

Uniformity of BCS within a herd can be quite difficult to achieve in a spring based herd, especially where large genetic differences are seen, for example where a very different breeding program has begun to be implemented (crossbreeding, high production vs low production) or cows have been purchased from one or more different genetic strains, this is quite common in rapidly expanding herds and in repopulating herds after a disease outbreak. The use of ‘feed to yield’ technologies in the milking parlour and / or segregation of groups according to yield and BCS are suitable methods of reducing this disparity. Practices around energy balance and altering BCS are covered in our Protein and Energy Supplementation section.

The importance of correct BCS has been well documented and cows in Negative Energy Balance before calving (a symptom of trying to alter BCS in the dry period) have been seen to have a poorer appetite and be far more likely to suffer from metabolic disorders as a result of an impaired immune system, primarily Displaced Abomasum. This in turn has been linked to ketosis, reduced fertility and a reduction in milk yield.

Another cause of immune system suppression is the challenge of Liver Fluke, the incidence of which has increased 12 fold in Europe in the last ten years.  Animals with a significant Liver Fluke challenge will struggle to maintain an adequate BCS, as Liver Fluke is known to cause ill-thrift. It also affects milk production in both quality and quantity, and can contribute significantly to infertility.

At this time of year it is advisable to perform a bulk milk ELISA test to diagnose any parasite infections in the dairy herd, the prevalence of Liver Fluke has long been understood to be endemic. A study carried out by UCD in 2009 reported the presence of Liver Fluke in 65% of livers from culled cattle in Ireland, and that bulk milk screening indicated high prevalence of Liver Fluke “between 50 and 85% of herds in UK & Ireland” (Sekiya et al. 2013)

An animal’s ability to maintain or increase Body Condition Score is primarily dependant on genetic and dietary factors (production level, energy & protein levels, stage of lactation).  Disease incidence, when spoken about, is largely confined to the effect of viruses (BVD, IBR etc.). However, it is critically important not to forget about the effect of Liver Fluke, lungworms and stomach worms, the incidence of which can directly affect meat production (body condition) by up to 20% and milk production by 8-10%.

The challenges imposed by these conditions cause immune suppression, which leads to increases in disease pressures, more infections (metritis, retained placenta at calving) and ultimately lower performance for your herd. Therefore to help your cows calve down in optimal condition, there are many considerations; adequate nutritional status (Protein and Energy Balance), anthelmintic treatment and trace element and vitamin status – Selenium and Vitamin E help immune systems to recover faster and react stronger to challenges.

Now is the time to address these issues on your farm. It is not too late to take action on any of the measures listed above. For further advice please contact the Co-Operative Animal Health Group.