Tap into 20 year’s experience and contribution from many people to improve your Live Carcase Assessments. Elements of the handout can be found in AGFACTS put out by the Dept of Agriculture and from a good basic book Beef Cattle written by Lucy Newham a cattle breeder and cattle judge.
GREG STUART’S IMPORTANT CRITERIA IN ASSESSING CATTLE
Without fertility there is no production, therefore it must be the prime criteria. Fertility is related to genetics (of low heritability) and conformation (structure) and can be much affected by environment.
As the co-operator of a small property where we do most of our cattle movements on foot, temperament is the next most important criteria. Cattle with bad temperament cattle are a safety hazard. We can not afford to be keeping our eye out for cattle that will want to “have a go at you”. Temperament is a combination of genetics (of medium to high heritability) and handling methods. Bad temperament cattle often degrade their own meat quality before slaughter and therefore have a significant hidden economic aspect. Likewise an animal that is always over-alert with its head up at the back of the herd is not concentrating on eating and is likely to lead some of your other cattle off when its time to change paddocks etc. Don’t confuse temperament with protective behaviour of a cow for a new born calf.
3. STRUCTURAL CORRECTNESS
An animal has to be able to move, to eat, to carry it’s weight, to serve cows in an adequate manner and to calve easily. All of these attributes are impacted by an animal’s structural correctness.
4. CARCASE QUALITY
Without a quality carcase there will be no or little profit. Minto Galloways generates most of its income from direct sales of meat to our individual customers in the Canberra Yass area, so carcase quality for us is a far higher requirement than producing animals that look good for showing. The two don’t always go together. Many carcase attributes are highly heritable ie rib eye area, retail product, tenderness while others are medium to high ie dressing %, carcase grade, marbling. This indicates that we can make substantial improvements in carcase quality without adversely effecting other characteristics.
PHYSICAL SIGNS TO LOOK FOR IN ASSESSMENT
5. FERTILITY IN A BULL
Firstly a bull needs to have two well developed, firm testicles. A good guide to size is two beer cans. An 18 month bull requires a scrotal circumference of 30 cm and a mature bull requires more than 32 cm. His sheath should be tight and not at all pendulous as that can result in damage. His leg structure should be such that the rear of his rear hoof is directly under his hook bone. If he is either post legged or sickle hocked he will unduly strain his back, stifle joint and ligaments when mounting cows. This will reduce his working life. He should not have prominent or sharp shoulders, he should have a good wedge shape from front to back. These characteristics effect the calving ease of cows he is mated to and his offspring. Bulls that produce heavier than normal calves reduce fertility because of increase risk of calf death. Births 2kg above breed average increases losses by 2.3% for each extra kg of birthweight. Remember also, that high weight gain starts at conception and over selection for weight gain will cause problems in the longer term. A dead calf having potential high weight gain provides no positive returns.
6. FERTILITY IN A COW/HEIFER
A heifer should be at least 280 to 300 kg and fat score of 2.5 to 3 at mating to ensure adequate cycling (85% of heifers will be cycling at 280kg) and that she will be able to calve without assistance. Aim for a pre-calving weight of 450kg+ and a fat score of 3 to ensure rapid return to cycling post calving. Cows and heifers should not have prominent or sharp shoulders; she should be a good wedge shape the same as the bulls. Cows and heifers with a small or “immature” vulva may indicate future fertility problems. Likewise, cows and heifers with short thick necks may also indicate fertility problems. This is not a criticism of well muscled cows, far from it. You can not achieve reasonable muscle increase unless you select for muscling in both cows and bulls. However be aware of “butchy” stubby necked females. Cow and heifer hip and pin bones need to be correctly positioned to give the calf an easy outlet and they need to be widely spaced to give sufficient pelvic diameter area for the calf to pass through, they should be high and wide. It is a good idea to have your vet give an estimate of pelvic diameter area when preg testing your heifers. This may then be used as a heifer management tool and/or culling attribute.
If cattle are going to display poor temperament they normally do so when they are under some form of stress. However, it is important to recognise that cattle being yarded, sent for market or slaughter will be stressed. If they have poor temperament, they may well reduce your returns due to increased bruising to themselves and others, increased wastage of body condition during transport and increased risk of dark cutting. They also increase the difficulty of working your cattle. Poor temperament can be associated with poor weight gain as the animal is not relaxed enough to graze in an appropriate manner. Cattle with poor temperament often indicate this by their eyes and over alert stance and tendency to be always watching from the back of the herd. Narrowed eyes are often an indicator, even when the cattle appear not to be under stress. Cattle that have a go at you in the paddock or yards have no place in your herd. They are a safety hazard to you and others. Cattle with a flighty or nervous disposition will usually lead others astray in the paddock or yards, wasting your time and effort. Often the offspring of flighty or nervous cattle will have a similar temperament, as temperament is moderate to highly heritable (20-50%). There are now some standardised tests available to measure the degree of “flight” in an animal. However the usefulness of these can be questioned, as we usually can determine an animals temperament from the moment the animal is first handled and yarded.
8. STRUCTURAL CORRECTNESS
There are many aspects of structural correctness. We mention one earlier in relation to bulls ie their rear leg structure wrt the pin bone. One of the major structural visual checks that I look for is how they walk. When walking freely the hind foot should place itself in the same spot that the front foot just left. If this is correct in an animal it is on the way to being OK. The front legs should be square under an animal such that there is a straight line down from the centre of the shoulder through the knee and down to the hoof. Note, if the front feet turn in (pigeon toed) the shoulders will almost always be coarse. The rear legs should have similar good weight distribution. Some of my animals have a tendency to cow hocks meaning their hocks are too close together, this is a common fault to be watched for when buying. The back line should be straight in a mature animal, young animals at periods of their growth will be higher at their hips than shoulders but that is usually grown out of. Feet should be even toed without excessive length or being down at the heels. If either fault is present, watching foot placement when walking can usually pick it up. Note however that the season and type of country the cattle are on can effect feet. In a wet season with a lot of feed, toes will grow rapidly due to nutrition and not having hard surfaces to wear toes down. So be careful when culling on feet alone. A point with a Galloway that I consider important is the width of the muzzle. They should have a wide muzzle. A narrow muzzle restricts the intake of food at each bite, meaning more time required to graze, especially important for grazing coarse pasture like the Galloways evolved on. One of my breeding characteristics is that I want a body with plenty of depth and width. This provides plenty of body capacity for feed conversion, calf retention and for extra muscle. A good length is also helpful and gives an indication of maturity pattern. Heavy, flat bone is an indicator of good muscling. The percentage of bone in an animal is usually constant regardless of bone weight, approx 17%. Therefore there is more muscle, meat, on a heavier boned animal. Feed efficiency and growth rate appear to also have a positive relationship to heavy bone. The cannon bone is a good indicator of bone “heaviness”.
9. CARCASE QUALITY
Two major and one minor characteristic are to noted regarding carcase quality. Fat score, muscle score and frame score. Frame score is the minor characteristic and will be dealt with first.
Frame score has no direct relationship to reproductive performance, growth rate or carcase quality but it can affect all three. It is closely related to maturity type and as a predictor of maturity and when or if an animal will achieve its required finishing weight. Frame score is scored from 1 to 11. Frame score can be manipulated. By limiting the feed availability especially protein such that growth slows or stops before a weight of 180kg is reached, the animal will never reach its genetic size/weight potential. If feed limitation occurs after 180kg the animal can compensate when feed is again available and can reach its potential. This has significant impact on how we should drought feed our cattle. There are some frame score reduced cattle in my mob of steers as a result of the recent drought. The domestic market generally requires cattle with frame scores of 3 to 5. Galloways generally fit this category well. Frame scores measurement for a 14month old bull are 113cm, 118, 123, 127 for frame scores 2,3,4,5. For a 30 month old bull they are 125, 130, 135, 139 for 2,3,4,5. Heifers and cows are generally 5cm shorter than bulls when at the same age. At the same age larger frame score animals will be heavier and have the same fat depth as a smaller framed animal. This can be used to breed for a specific target market.
Fat scoring is essential before muscle scoring as fat can obscure muscle. A point to remember is that fat makes an animal look square whereas muscle make an animal look rounded. Fat is score from 1 to 5. One being virtually no fat (emaciated) and 6 (walking is restricted by fat). A fat score of 3 is where we want to have our cows and bulls at joining and for cows at calving.
At fat score 2 there is 3-6mm of fat on the P8 site and 2-3mm on the 12th rib. There will be no fat beside the tailhead, the short and long ribs are easily felt, the spines are rounded rather than sharp and the hip bone and ribs are hard. At fat score 3 there is 7-12mm at P8 and 4-7 at the 12th rib. Short ribs are less easily felt, firm pressure is required to distinguish between the long ribs and there is fat at the tail head. At fat score 4 there is 13-22mm at P8 4-7mm at the 12th rib. Short ribs can’t be felt, some fat over the hip bone, small mounds around the tail head and the long ribs are hard to feel. At fat score 5 there is 23-32mm at P8 and 13-18mm at the 12th rib. Short ribs can’t be felt, tailhead and hip bones are almost buried in fat, ribs are wavy due to fat deposits, brisket and udder are fat and the flank area is squared off. Places to look for fat are; the ribs, tailhead, brisket, cod and twist and the muscle seams of the hindquarter.
For muscle scoring the fat must be first mentally stripped off the animal as fat can obscure the animal real muscle. Muscle is scored from A to E with A being heaviest, 50% of steers should be a C, the “normal” value. As muscle score increases so does yield ie meat. Muscle is convex in shape, look for convexity of the butt and thigh. A trick to judge good muscling is to see where an animal is thickest through the thigh when viewed from behind. The lower it is thickest the better.
Other areas to look at to muscle score are the thickness of the top line, whether the muscle on either side of the back-line is higher than the back-line. This is called butterflying and is a very good indicator of heavier muscled animals also when looking at the back-line muscling check to see if the muscle fills in behind the shoulder well this again is an indicator of a heavier muscled animal. Animals that have a pronounced narrowing behind the shoulder are said to be affected by the “Devils Pinch”, you will often see judges feel just behind the shoulder, this is to assist with fat scoring and to feel the muscle just behind the shoulder. Other indicators are: the width of stance, the angle of the top line over the rump, the depth of muscle down the back legs and the forwardness of the rump muscles. A and E muscled steers are rare in Galloways.
Things to look for muscle scoring:
- B muscling – Thick stifle, considerable width to stance, rounded thigh when viewed from behind, some convexity in hindquarter from the side view and flat and wide over the top line with muscle at the same height as the top-line.
- C muscling – flat down thigh when viewed from behind, flat tending to angular over the top line, wide stance.
- D muscling – narrow stance, flat to convex down the thigh, the widest part of rear is the hips, thin through stifle and sharp and angular oven the top line.
It is always a good idea to feel the animal to assist in both fat and muscle scoring, I often wonder how judges judge steers if they do not feel them. You can easily feel the softness of fat and its depth over the hip bones and ribs. The hip and shoulder bones do not have meat (muscle) cover and you are feeling only fat. Muscle feels rounded over the rump and stifle and you get a good idea of its convexity by running your hand down its rump.
The views expressed are mine. The Galloway Cattle and Beef Marketing Association Inc. has no responsibility for them.
This handout is based on my own experience over 20 years and was drawn from the assistance of many people. Elements of the handout can be found in AGFACTS put out by the Dept of Agriculture and from a good basic book Beef Cattle written by Lucy Newham a Murrey Grey breeder and cattle judge.