Udderly Predictable

"(B)y following the directions of M. Guenon, as laid down in the treatise, anyone can tell with certainty whether a cow is a good milker, or whether a heifer will become one, so that there need be no doubt as to the profit of raising an animal, and no chance of being taken in the purchase of one."
National tribute of the French Government Paris, September17, 1848 This quotation is from the first page of the 14th edition of A Treatise on Milch Cows by M. Francois Guenon. Imagine the usefulness of the discrepancy between Expected Progeny Difference that most of us are currently using and Guenon’s “tell with certainty” methodology. Why do we breed in variability by using animal science (which was not even heard of in 1848) and numbers, when animal husbandry, knowledge and a bit of observation can lead us to a more certain and consistent outcome? When we go out in the pasture, do we really see our animals? When was the last time you went out to the pasture, picked a long stem of grass, put it between your teeth, and took a few minutes to observe? Mr. Guenon spent thirty years of his life observing cows to develop his method. A couple of hours on our part spent reading his treatise and thirty days of observation could have any of us light years ahead in understanding the animals that populate our pastures. A good cow must have the following qualities: 1) excellent glandular function, 2) high butterfat to nourish her calf in utero and by her side, and 3) a phenotype that lends itself to calving ease, superior utilization of our grass, and plenty of meat on her offspring. Of all the animals God put upon his green Earth, a cow has more external hair expressions revealing the glandular functions going on inside her than any other species. Guenon’s Treatise is an excellent place to start learning about some of those hair patterns, whether you are looking for beef cows or dairy cows. A cow’s hide is her largest gland. A soft, supple, dappled hide with lots of folds in the neck area is found on animals that also have other fully functional glands. The first gland to develop during pregnancy is the pituitary. If it is not in place and functioning properly, the development of all other glands suffers. If the cow is pregnant during the heat of the summer, the development of the pituitary suffers. The larger the thymus expression, a hair pattern on the lower neck, the better the overall health of the animal. Gland expressions (hair whorls) that are small or in the wrong area of the body are crying out to us, “Things are not right.” The adrenal hair whorl, in most cases, is the easiest gland to see. Think about looking at the top of an apple with a stem still attached (the tuft of standing hair represents the stem). If you see that adrenal “pattern” on the top line of your cow or heifer, you will know she is cycling. This hair whorl needs to be in the shoulder area or further forward for high butterfat production and to assure that she will pass this trait along to her offspring. Once that “stem” lies down, she is either pregnant or has gone infertile. The pancreatic hair whorl is located low on the side of the abdomen. The longer a cow is pregnant, the longer and further up the side of the cow this hair pattern will grow. Learning to read the glandular function of the adrenal and pancreatic hair whorls could eliminate pregnancy checking expense. Three things are vital to long-term profitability on your farm: 1) the amount of butterfat a cow gives, 2) when she will come into her milk and for how long, and 3) how much total milk she gives. To be able to know these traits the day a heifer is born could be invaluable. Guenon’s Treatise describes the visual indicators for each of these traits. Are you looking for butterfat in your cows? You should be. The spade on an escutcheon (the main element of Guenon’s book) that slopes upward at the top as it spreads out onto the back of the cow’s legs indicates very high butterfat. A personal aside, after reading Guenon’s Treatise and learning the other butterfat indicators listed below, one of my newly selected heifers had a calf with yellow amniotic fluid covering her first born calf. I called Gearld Fry and asked his opinion. He replied she was giving that calf so much nourishment that the calf had already pooped before being born. Other indicators of butterfat, some of which are mentioned in Guenon’s Treatise, are loose hide over the pin bones, small-dense bones, a pointed poll, a darker greasy streak down her back, a flat or concave jaw-bone just behind the front teeth, the adrenal hair whorl in the shoulder area or forward, a soft and silky hair coat that is loose to the touch, a bald udder and supernumerary teats on the back of her udder. Exudates that indicate higher butterfat and marbling include 1) yellow flakes at the bottom of the tail bone, 2) yellow wax in the ear, and 3) dandruff on the inside of the back legs. Guenon even shows us how to read the protein content of the milk by the expression of the “butterfly wings” on the back of the udder. That “genetic potential” we put together at the point of conception has to have abundant nutrition in the form of minerals and rich butterfat from conception to maturity to be fully expressed and functional in the animal. Dr. Richard Olree says that the more purebred our animals, the higher the mineral requirements. Linear measurement can also be an invaluable tool to help us know how structurally correct our animals are and how likely they will weather the seasons on our farm. The first heifer that I retained with a 5” + rump width during linear measuring her calved when she was 2 years old and took seven minutes to have her calf from when she first laid down until the calf was on the ground and she stood back up. Almost every measurement recorded is related to the length of the rump. When talking about the correct phenotype, Guenon said, “If there is one part of the frame, the form of which, more than any other, renders the animal valuable, it is the chest.” The width of the shoulders of a cow has to equal the length of her rump. Do you have cows or bulls whose front toes point out? This is a sure sign that his or her shoulders are too narrow. The length from the poll to the nose should equal the length from the hook to the pin bones on a well balanced cow. The greater the distance between the hook and the pin bones, the larger the udder. A wider/longer rump equates to calving ease and volume of meat. I hope that this short article has piqued your interest in just what kinds of cows you have in your pastures, and if they are not what you want, you now know more of what to look for in the future. Perhaps we can accomplish what Guenon speculated elsewhere in his treatise, "The establishment of a race as uniform and remarkable for excellence at the pail as the Devon Ox is for the yoke." Do a bit of reading and observing, and use your God-given talents to select for the positive traits that will work on your farm.

Posted on September 7, 2015 .