There are few things I like as much as seeing a pretty cow. Now just because a cow looks good doesn’t mean she gives a lot of milk and just because she may not be the hottest momma in the barn doesn’t mean she’s not a profitable member of the herd. However, with that being said, I admit I like pretty cows.
This week we classified cows using linear classification thru the national Holstein Association. This is a tool where an evaluator comes in to your herd to look at your cows. While he/she looks at your lovely ladies they are evaluating several body traits that help aid in production, longevity and over all appearance. They come every 7 months, more or less if you desire. They are an unbiased opinion comparing your animals to the breed standard.
When looking at your cattle they evaluate the following traits: stature, strength, body depth, dairy form, rump angle, rump width, rear legs side view, rear legs rear view, foot angle, locomotion, fore udder attachment, rear udder height, rear udder width, udder cleft, udder depth, front teat placement, front teat length and rear teat placement. As you can see the girls are thoroughly inspected. Each category is rated on a score of 1-50 depending on how desirable that particular trait is on that cow. Essentially you want a girl who can walk freely and easily, be large enough to convert feed in to milk and have an udder that doesn’t resemble a basketball.
When determining their final score more emphasis is placed on certain body parts. The most important part, contributing the highest percentage to the overall score, is the udder. It makes up 40% of the score. Following with feet and legs at 20%, dairy strength 20%, front end capacity 15% and rump 5%.
Each of these traits are highly influential to a productive animal. Obviously a cow needs an udder that is snug to her body and that doesn’t hang too low to the ground. This helps her be able to be productive longer as well as prevent mastitis, udder infections, by keeping the teats high up off of the ground. Feet legs are also a very important break down because she needs to be able to walk freely and with out much effort or any discomfort. This is true if you keep your cows on concrete or on grass. If a cow can’t walk easily she will not eat. If she doesn’t eat, she doesn’t make milk. Next comes dairy strength. We milk dairy cows, not beef cows. They should appear angular and on the thinner side. Not skinny but we don’t want a two ton Tessie either. That shows she isn’t efficiently converting feed to milk. We also don’t want it to look like a strong breeze could knock her over. So a happy medium, nice wide muzzle and chest but not thin. Think a girl with a more “athletic” build. Front end capacity helps cows maintain over all health. They’ve actually done studies that have proven cows with wider chests are healthier. More room for the important heart and lungs! Lastly is rump. You want a cow with a “little junk in the”. What is to pass thru that rump on an annual basis? Calves. Calves are big, rumps need to be big.
Once all these numbers are computed and averaged the ladies receive their “final score”. A final score can go from 1-100. The highest scored Holsteins are 97 points. That is the elite of the breed. The average Holstein cow is 77 points. The bulk of our registered cows range from 80-90 points.
So what do we do with this jumble of numbers? The big thing that linear scoring can help with is corrective mating. You want to fix the less desirable parts of your cow in order to have her offspring be better than her. These numbers help make it more obvious to you what parts need fixed.
Classification is also used in marketing registered cattle and their offspring. Cows that score higher are more desirable to registered breeders. They are easier to market and often more profitable members of the herd. This doesn’t mean they milk more than their herd mates, but they may look prettier while doing it making calves from them more desirable to some people. I’ve never heard a farmer say he wanted to crawl out of bed at the crack of dawn to milk an ugly cow.
** During the month of June if you have any questions dealing with the dairy industry, feel free to leave them in the comments. Happy Dairy month!**