Welcome back to our second installment of the MRW Memo!
With newborn calves hitting the ground all over the country, there’s plenty of talk of nursing and cow udder quality. Obviously, udder quality can’t be overlooked if you want females to last as a revenue generator in your herd.
If you aren’t familiar with the udder scoring system recommended by the Beef Improvement Federation, it is a simple numerical score based on teat size (diameter and length) and udder suspension (tightness of the udder to the body). Both traits are scored on a 1 to 9 scale. See the examples below for a visual aid. Most breed associations recommend that udders are scored within 24 hours of calving, and that scores are based on the worst quarter of the cow’s udder.
Udder suspension: (L to R) scores of 9, 5, and 1.
Teat size: (L to R) scores of 9, 5, and 1.
I’ve had discussions with producers on whether the score of 9 for both teat size and udder suspension is “perfect” and what we need to be aiming for. I argue that if all udders score at that end of the scale, we’d have some unintended problems in our cattle. With teats that small, I think we see more calves that have trouble finding and latching on to nurse in the early stages of life. I also wonder if getting udders too tight will hurt milking ability and calf nursing ability. Newborn calves aren’t very smart, and tiny teats and highly held udders only make their start to life more difficult.
In my opinion, I like to see teat scores around a 7 for my youngest cows. After those first couple calves, 5 to 7 scores are what I like to see. If an older female has teats that have grown to a higher score, I’m not going to cull her unless they get to the point of not being functional. I view udder suspensions similarly. Younger cows need to maintain a tight, but not too tight, bag (6,7 type scores), and I have a little more leeway for an old momma whose been working hard for years. Once it starts to reach pendulous and breaking down in the rear, it’s probably time for her to go.
Some breed associations have EPDs available to help with genetic selection for udder quality. The Hereford breed has both udder suspension and teat score EPDs available to breeders. The breed has done a good job of improving udder quality across the board and moving on from some lines that produced females with bad udders. That’s a win for the Hereford bull customer keeping back those baldy females! Regardless of breed, you’ll find genetics that excel for udder quality, as well as those that don’t get the job done for size or suspension.
What are your thoughts on udder scores in your cow herd? I’d welcome your input.