FOR so many producers, milk quality and udder conformation is a top priority, so why aren't we assessing the udders of our beef females more?
With potential proven options out there for measuring udder quality, creating an industry wide objective measurement is possible.
Stud breeding cattle in particular have an estimated breeding value (EBV) for milk but this does not provide much information about udder quality.
Yes, it can be assumed that a female with an above average milk EBV would have a good udder but the value itself is only an estimate based off the maternal genetic contribution of a dam to the 200-day weight of her calf.
There are so many determining factors for a calf's 200-day weight which means the EBV itself can't be relied on in some cases.
Using scoring systems similar to the udder and teat scoring system, developed by the Beef Improvement Federation (BIF), producers can assess their females and give them a score based solely on their udder.
The information gathered could be used in culling situations or when purchasing stock whether it be males or females, as udders are heritable.
BIF's scoring system takes two main things in to account, teat size and udder suspension. The assessment of the udder is performed within 24 to 48 hours of calving, from the quarter that is the combined worst for each trait, and from there a score is worked out.
As so many producers know, the first meal of colostrum is the overruling factor for if offspring will survive or not. Oversized or undersized teats can be difficult for calves to suckle from which means they might not get colostrum or adequate milk to grow.
Udder suspension is sometimes more overlooked than teat size but is still important. A weak udder suspension means there is less support from the ligaments that tie the udder to the cow and if the udder hangs too low it can increase the potential for injury or infection, and make it more difficult for calves to suckle when it is at the extreme.
Using measuring tools like the BIF scoring system means there is an opportunity to making an objective measurement for udder quality.
Creating the objective measurement for udders would mean the score could be understood by all producers and would not fluctuate between breeds like the EBVs in stud cattle. It would be more similar to a hoof score or frame scoring that is a stable, industry wide measurement.
If a suitable tool were to be developed, another factor that would need to be taken into account is supernumerary teats (dummy teats) and whether points would be deducted from the score based on location or number of these found.
Beef cattle producer, Stephen Chase of Waitara Angus, Trangie, is one of the many producers that would love to see udder scoring implemented as an objective measurement in beef operations.
"The challenge is keeping contemporary groups together but it should be able to be done," Mr Chase said.
Like most other objective measurements, there would be some room for human error but it would tap into a largely important area that all producers should be looking at. There would also need to be a decision made as to whether farmers themselves would make the assessments or if a trained and certified professional would be conducting the exams.
"The critics say there is too much opportunity for data fudging if people are doing their own cattle," Mr Chase said.
"I believe that most people are honest and udder scoring will result in a better result for our industry."
Bulls and heifers are currently sold with no real insight into udder quality. Because of this, there is a large level of dependence from a purchaser on the producer to be honest with the genetic potential for udder quality carried in the animal.
If we were to make an industry wide objective measurement for udders, it would be up to producers to work out their own boundaries or requirements for the udder scores and how strict they were with keeping females or males based off the results.
We all know that poor milk production or bad udders can flow on to reduced weaning weights, higher mortality rates, and for the cow, a lack of longevity so shouldn't we be looking at the milk EBV and an actual udder score?
As cows age, their udders will deteriorate over time but it still needs to be generally sound from the start to be able to last the distance.
Some females can sustain injury to their udder with a common one being a 'blown out' teat or a non-functioning quadrant from severe cases of mastitis. Both of these factors would dramatically lower the udder score given to an individual animal but would not impact the genotype or potential phenotype of their offspring.
By no means is a non-functional quadrant of an udder desirable but in some cases, it can be 'let slide' as long as the cow is producing high quality milk in the other sectors.
If we hoof score and frame score animals regularly, shouldn't we be doing udder scores too?
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