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Classification not just an elite tool

Type classification can be an effective tool for commercial pedigree dairy farmers. Laura Bowyer speaks to Meurig James to find out more.

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Classification is more than a tool for showmen and elite breeders, says head classifier at Holstein UK Meurig James. Instead it is a useful management aid for both dairy and beef pedigree producers.


According to Mr James, type classification plays an important role in ensuring cows have the right balance between strength and dairyness, but says over time the proportion of people classifying has decreased because less people are showing.


He says: “In 2014 less than 1 per cent of the Holstein UK membership showed cows, due to an increase in legislation and a drop in available labour on-farm, but the showring is still counted as an important shop window.

Management tool

“Classification identifies which traits need improving on cows, therefore giving the farmer the opportunity to use certain bulls to rectify these faults. Classification is no longer aimed at the elite pedigree breeder but is a useful management tool for farmers and breeders across all 14 breeds which Holstein UK scores.


Mr James describes it as giving an actual picture of the cow, with the information then going back to the relevant breed societies. It is a fresh pair of eyes on your cows and is completely independent.


Classification of dairy animals started about 50 years ago in order to identify strengths and weaknesses in dairy cows both nationally and globally. It allows faults to be seen in the herd, aiding bull choice to rectify these problems.


He says: “A heifer can be scored a maximum of VG89 to allow it time to get better with age. Heifers scoring high on legs, feet and mammary system will last longer in the herd and be more profitable.


“Cows have to calve three times before they can be scored excellent as they need to prove they can last.”


Mr James says there will be a slight difference between a show cow and cubicle cow, but there is less difference now than in past decades.


He says: “Too many people are of the opinion excellent cows are ‘show cows’. This is certainly not the case because show cows need style and ring presence and have a tendency of having superior management throughout the year, however a cow can be scored excellent because she is balanced in all four boxes, produces a lot of milk and is a trouble free cow.”


Linear traits include chest width, body width, angularity, width of rump and, in beef cattle, length to withers.


A team of 14 classifiers visits herds all over the UK every seven to eight months.


Mr James says: “In 2015 a record number of 149,500 animals were scored and 2016 will be very similar in numbers which does say a great deal about the importance of the scheme in the eyes of the farmers when milk prices were the lowest for many years.


“We also score test heifers for AI companies some three times a year, an important role for the society as the results are used to form the bull proofs.”

Bulls

Bulls are also classified using the same scoring system to cows and lies completely separately to their EBVs.


Costing £6.50 per cow for the first 100 animals, £3 a head for the next 50, and from then on £2 an animal, females for classification must see the classifier as a first calved heifer, unless unfit to do so.


He says: “We see a lot of scores in the top 70s and increasingly less animals in the 60s than when I started classifying, mainly due to investment in semen and genetics. The national average for a Holstein is 80 points.


“Money spent on registration and classification is well spent as they will often be worth more, even when there is a slump in cattle prices.


“Genomics now play an important role in cattle breeding but I believe genomics will work well alongside classification because it is a prediction of an animal’s potential, whereas classification is actual.”


Classifier workshops are held throughout the year to make sure all classifiers work to the same level. Mr James also attends a world-wide workshop which is set to visit the UK for the first time next year.

Beef

  • Beef classifications follow a similar regime with 14 linear traits, with body conformation carrying a weighting of 25 per cent; beef character 25 per cent; legs and feet 30 per cent and 20 per cent to the udder
  • Suckler cows need good structure and correct body conformation, as well as strong legs and feet and being milky with a good udder for calves to suckle, he says.
  • Mr James says: “Teats are more important in beef than a lot of suckler people may think. Classification is one way of breeding a suckler cow which still has a lot of milk. There is no point in having a cow which cannot feed its calf.”
  • The Beef Shorthorns were the first beef breed to begin classifying with Holstein UK and all beef breeds which have joined since use the same scoring process.
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