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  • Writer's pictureMatt Woolfolk

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.

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Welcome to the inaugural edition of the MRW Memo! There’s lots going on this month, with the Cattlemen’s Congress, National Western and then bull sale season. It’s also the final countdown for Erika and I as we wait for our little man to join the family any time now!

This month, calving ease is very heavy on my mind. While most baby talk has been focused on the human variety lately, our first calf heifers are just a couple weeks from starting calving season. If we did our job well as breeders, we used bulls on our heifers to provide us less stress and more sleep at night (well, more sleep thanks to the cows!). Here are some of the factors that I consider when selecting bulls to use on heifers, either via AI or natural service.

1. Feet and leg quality must always be paramount when bringing in a bull. Photos, videos, and input from other breeders are valuable for AI sires I don’t see in person. When buying a bull to walk the pastures, he better have good running gears under him to get his job done.

2. The piece of information I study the most with calving ease sires is the Calving Ease Direct (CED) EPD. Bulls in the top 25% of their breed for CED are what I aim for when breeding heifers. Birth Weight (BW) EPD is also considered, but since CED incorporates BW into its calculation, I lean towards CED. Actual birth weight is looked at as well, but only to compare if bulls are in the same sale. Environment plays such a role in birth weight that I can’t compare across herds. An 85 lb. calf on my family’s Tennessee farm is a bigger calf but is closer to average here in Iowa.

3. Plenty of stockmen will tell you that the look of a bull tells you whether he should be bred to heifers than any number. I believe there’s truth to that! I like for the bulls we breed heifers with to have that smooth shoulder and slender front end. Broad shoulders and short, compact body types give me concern about calf shape come calving season. Not all equal weight calves are created equal if the calves come in different shapes.

4. Your heifer group likely has a “hole” that a new sire could help you make improvements in. Studying your females EPDs and phenotypes can help you discover that shortcoming. Identifying a bull that can fix that weak link while still providing the calving ease you need can help your breeding program make more than just a “throwaway” calf out of those first calvers. My Hereford genetics weakest link is carcass quality, so I am on the hunt for a bull that can cover heifers, infuse a bit more carcass into them without taking any other important trait out of bounds.

Best of luck with your calving season! May all your heifers calve unassisted before bed time.


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  • Writer's pictureMatt Woolfolk


Welcome to my online writing outlet! The plan is to deliver monthly content here via the MRW Memo, focusing on my journey through the seedstock cattle business, anchored in genetic selection and performance data discussion. It's an opportunity for me to share on various topics throughout the year, as well as a look inside the thoughts and philosophy of a young guy just trying to make his way in the modern-day seedstock cattle industry. Most of all, it's an opportunity for all of us cattle breeders to discuss and learn from each other.

Can't wait to start sharing with you soon!


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