You score a cow’s body condition, but do you score her hair?
University of Missouri Extension livestock specialist Eldon Cole says while farmers are working spring- and fall-calving cows, they should assess hair coats.
"In addition to a long list of health management practices you'll be doing as the cattle leave the chute, I'd suggest someone in your crew hair score the cows,” Cole says. “May is an ideal time to do it.”
THICK MAT: This Angus cow represents a hair score of 5 with much of its winter coat still intact.
Hair scoring is not rocket science, but it may help producers develop a cow herd that is more productive, more attractive and better able to cope with heat stress because of fescue toxicosis.
"Researchers find cows that shed their winter coats by mid-May wean calves averaging around 14 pounds more,” Cole says. “Early hair shedding is a heritable trait [0.38-0.40]. This heritability is comparable to weaning weight, so genetic progress can be made.”
Anyone familiar with toxic fescue symptoms realizes late shedders show heat stress as temperatures reach the upper 70s and low 80s. That temperature and elevated humidity set the cow up for poor production and reproduction.
Hair shedding scores range from 1 to 5.
- The 1 score is for early shedders that have completely shed by May. The 1s stick out in most herds, and if a producer is scoring in April, they may not find many.
- A 2 cow will be 75% shed. The remaining long hair will be on the lower part of the body, including some on the lower hindquarters.
- The 3 cow is 50% shed.
- A 4 indicates they are only 25% shed. Most of the shed area is in the forequarters and the topline.
- A 5 score still will be carrying her winter coat.
SLICK LOOK: This cow is sporting a sleek hairstyle with much of the winter coat shedding complete. It would have a hair score of 1.
"I've hair scored a lot of cattle since 1993 when we started doing it on steers involved in a grazing study with ‘hot’ Kentucky 31 fescue at the University of Missouri Southwest Research Center, Mount Vernon,” Cole says. “It's a useful tool and can aid in selecting and culling replacement heifers, cows and bulls.”
The University of Missouri is involved in a project with other institutions to identify beef cattle well-suited to their environment. One of the factors used in that project is hair shedding.
"The data collection started in 2016 and includes reporting on cattle from southwest Missouri,” Cole says. “Many of the cattle have been DNA tested and that information may assist in the development of a hair shedding expected progeny difference," Cole says.