8 December 2000

GOODLOCOMOTION – COWS THAT CANT WALK WONT LAST

Dont lose sight of the importance of locomotion scores when selecting

future sires. Cows that cant walk dont last. Jeremy Hunt reports

DESPITE all the effort that has gone into black-and-white cow breeding in recent decades, most herd owners would admit that legs and feet are still a big problem.

Spending time watching cows move can be an enlightening experience, says HUKI classifier John Gribbon.

"Cows that are first out of the field or first into the parlour are always the cows with the best legs and feet. A cow should move with fluid, free-flowing locomotion, placing the hind feet in the same mark left by the front feet."

Locomotion scores, which rate movement as the most efficient method of scoring legs instead of assessments made purely on their conformation, are proving an invaluable aid to selecting sires.

"Problems with legs and feet are as much to do with a poor environment in which the cows are managed as the way cows are bred. But in the UK we have a classification system that scores on locomotion and tells us so much more about how good or how bad a cows legs and feet are."

Its two years since HUKI introduced its locomotion scores and the first sire data makes interesting reading.

"The bulls which score the highest points for legs and feet, both for composites and scores, are the best for locomotion," says Mr Gribbon.

But he is concerned about the legs and feet of progeny of some of the most popular high milk bulls. "Daughters of these bulls are pushed hard and invariably something has to give – either the udder or problems with legs and feet."

Mr Gribbon does not agree with the view that the current price level of newly calved dairy cows makes a high culling rate less of an issue.

"The current situation facing the dairy industry should make producers even more determined to reduce their cull rate and aim for a longer living, harder-wearing dairy cow.

"Longevity and wearability are critical to profitable milk production. We should be aiming for cows that will milk at least into their third, fourth and fifth lactations or more.

"To achieve that, its vital to produce cattle with good legs and feet. If they cant move correctly they simply wont last; dairy farmers have not got the time to be continually turning up cows feet.

"We should not be breeding the type of cow that needs constant attention to its feet to keep it going."

Mr Gribbon says the shape of the leg and the shape of the foot are the main problems. "You cant have a bent-legged cow or a sickle-legged cow with a straight foot; its impossible for it to walk properly. If a cow is sickle-legged she needs more give in the pasterns and the feet.

"But conversely, you can have a very straight-legged cow that needs a straight foot to walk properly, even though they dont actually stride out like a cow should stride out."

Classifying legs and feet is undertaken with a single combination score by HUKI – from poor to excellent – but Mr Gribbon recognises that as dairy farming systems become more intensive farmers will face an even greater challenge to breed cattle with good legs and feet.

Be thorough in your evaluation of how a bulls daughters walk. Locomotion is a critical score in determining sire selection, advises Mr Gribbon.

He says it should be high on the list of priorities. "Aim for bulls with scores of over two for locomotion if you want to improve the legs and feet of your herd. Dont use bulls with a score of less than one."

And he urges dairy farmers to strongly consider the proofs of UK bulls. "These sires have come through our own rigorous classification system and most of these bulls have good locomotion scores, producing daughters with in-creased longevity."

HUKI figures show a direct correlation between bulls that scored well on the earlier static legs and feet classification and have gone on to confirm their proof with a high score for locomotion.

"These figures are taken across the whole of the UK cows on all systems – both loose-housed and cubicles. And in our classification scores we now include the length of time that cows have been in a particular environment and also what surface they have been walking on." &#42

Sickle-legged cow with straight feet scoring three on locomotion (out of nine). "This is not how we want heifers to look. In time this animal will have problems with her legs and feet," says John Gribbon.

FEET AND LEGS

&#8226 Still a big problem.

&#8226 Need longevity and wearability.

&#8226 Breed for better locomotion.

An eleventh calver showing outstanding flat and hard bone quality in her legs. Rather sickle-legged but another with enough give in her pastern to achieve a locomotion score of eight or nine.