How Important is a Perfect Udder on a Beef Cow?

This article is a summary of the 2019 Nebraska Beef Cattle Report “The Effect of Cow Udder Score on Subsequent Calf Performance in the Nebraska Sandhills”. Joslyn K. Beard, Jacki A. Musgrave, Rick N. Funston and J. Travis Mulliniks were collaborators on this research study and report. Listen to a discussion of the content in this article on this episode of the BeefWatch podcast. You can subscribe to new episodes in iTunes or paste into your podcast app. Frequently, cows having poor udder conformation are culled from herds. Research has indicated that defects in teat shape and size may inhibit a calf’s ability to nurse, negatively impacting milk intake and calf gain. Other research findings have reported calves sucking dams with only one functional teat had similar growth and performance as compared to calves sucking dams with all functional teats. This study sought to evaluate the effect of beef cow udder score within March and May calving seasons on pre-and post-weaning calf performance. Cow and calf performance data on 812 cows were collected from 2013 through 2017 at the Gudmundsen Sandhills Laboratory located near Whitman, Nebraska. Cow and subsequent calf performance data were gathered from 500 March-calving and 312 May-calving cows. Cows ranged in age at the time of calving from 2 to 11 years of age. Cows were given an udder

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8 thoughts on “How Important is a Perfect Udder on a Beef Cow?

  1. Could there be a genetic relationship between poor udders and hot carcass wt? There was no data on how the two sets of steers graded. That may also have a genetic link. If there is a genetic link this would add more pressure to cull cows with poor udders.

  2. This is a classic example of when science goes wrong. Linear/reductionist methodology instead of holistic consideration in a complex situation

    While udder scores might not significantly affect calf performance – even if they only have 1 qtr left! – It does impact longevity and labour costs.

    Every lost qtr is more work – labour cost. This is huge – no-one needs to be stripping udders.

    Also it seems the study didn’t look at the age of the cow in relation to her udder structure. There is a huge difference in profitability between a cow whose udder lasts until she’s 8 and one that lasts until she’s 15 + Years old.

    The conclusion of this report – that you shouldn’t be culling poor udder confirmation – is just plain wrong.

    1. I don’t think they said you shouldn’t be culling poor udder confirmation. They gathered data, showed the results, and suggested that these results could be factored in when making decisions. This way a rancher can consider her individual operation and economics, the life expectancy of that cow, and how it all fits together with their needs to arrive at culling decisions. It’s kind of holistic.

  3. Why would you keep cows with poor udders? Yes there maybe marginal weaning weights with steers when the weather is good, but during cold wet winter conditions I have seen poor growth rates of young calves sucking on teats that are too large easily fit into their small mouths. Udder and teat size is inherited, so keeping heifers from these cows either for your use or selling as replacements will impact your bottom line for years

    1. I think, in the case you’re describing, the authors of the study would agree with you. They didn’t cover using heifers from bad udder cows for replacements in the herd. What I got from this is, as with all things in farming and ranching, there’s a cost/benefit trade off. You could have cows with perfect udders, but at a certain cost. And that cost may not be justified given that performance of offspring was not dramatically different between good udder and bad udder cows. It also provided some insight into culling cows as they age and their udders change. Their bottom line… “Managers need to evaluate how severe poor udder conformation is and the potential impact of that on labor and calf survival at birth in making cow culling decisions.” They’ve simply provided information that might help with some of those decisions.

  4. The big correlation between udder and traits of economic significance will be found I thing in bad udder = poor hormone function.

    The shape the udder takes for instance is controlled by hormones.

    This agrees with my personal experience and I have seen where Gerald Fry has come to the same conclusion.

    Also I think excessive protein in the cows diet too often also causes udder to fall earlier.

  5. It might be more helpful to have unadulterated pictures to identify poor udders. these vertically stretched pictures are misleading

    1. Hmmm….I checked the image on my iPad and on two other computers and it wasn’t vertically stretched on any of them. So I’m not sure how to solve this problem. I think it may be something at your end.

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