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Traits of a Good Dairy Cow

Kvet Forum

Well-known member

a) Production traits

This mainly refers to milk volume and its contents i.e. percentage of butterfat level, protein and other non-fat solids. Milk volume should be considered relative to amount of feeds consumed since more produce from relatively lesser fodder is proof of a high feed conversion efficiency.

More solids in milk generally increase the quality. It is of no use at all to breed a fantastic looking cow, which produces no milk. Therefore, one must select animals that are positive for milk production.

b) Conformation traits

These traits give a good indication of the performance of the dairy animal and include the udder structure, nature of feet or legs, stature and general dairy character.

• The udder should be pliable, silky in texture, sack-like in nature and non-pendulous but firmly attached with strong suspensory ligaments high up near the vulva region.

A huge udder is not necessarily a sign of a high milk yield, in fact, it is recommended that one should choose a cow with a medium-sized (but wide base) udder that should not hang below its hock joint. The teats should be average-sized and evenly placed and oriented (pointing straight down) on the udder.

• Good feet and strong legs lead to longevity of a dairy cow and facilitates it to be able to feed comfortably especially when in-calf (on average, a dairy cow is in-calf for about 80 per cent of its lactation duration). For a bull, strong feet and legs enable it to mount successfully though in dairy animals, more emphasis is on the cows and heifers due to the preference and comparative advantages of artificial insemination over natural mating.

Observed from behind, a cow’s hind legs should stand straight and wide apart while the side view should show a slightly set back hock (sickled) ending with slightly angled feet. The front legs should also be straight with a steep strongly attached pastern.

• The ideal cow’s stature should portray a deep, long body with wide, sprung ribs to provide ample space for the rumen and other digestive system organs. A good dairy cow should have a wedge shape, long neck, good width between fore legs, wide pin bones, broad muzzle and strong straight backline.

• The classic dairy character is indicated by sharpness across shoulders and slight general leanness all over the body ending with a thin fine tail. A good dairy cow is not stocky or beefy as this shows poor feed conversion efficiency. Generally, pedigree dairy cows portray flatness of bone usually evident on the inner thigh.

c) Fertility traits

The number of inseminations per conception will always determine the success of a breeding programme. The fewer the inseminations per conception, the better the fertility of a particular animal.
It is important to choose animals with (or from a family renown for) a good conception rate since difficult or repeat breeders are expensive to maintain and cause immense losses.

This will enable a farmer to target a calving interval of one calf annually per cow. For farmers using natural mating, one should choose bulls that do not shy away from mounting receptive cows or those that exhibit excessive libido. A bigger scrotal circumference and fully descended testes are normally indicators of good fertility.

d) Longevity traits

This determines the amount of total lifetime milk production of a cow but it is usually influenced greatly by other traits such as health and fertility. Choose heifers or bull semen from families with a history of cows that can maintain high production ability across many lactations as well as have as many normal calvings as possible in their lifetimes.

e) Health traits

As much as disease-prevention and control measures are important in ensuring sustained productivity, some emphasis should be laid on choosing disease-resistant and hardy animals to remain in production for long.

In harsh climate areas with a higher prevalence of tropical diseases (East Coast Fever and Foot and Mouth Disease), it may be wiser to undertake crossbreeding between exotic dairy breeds and indigenous lines since in such conditions, hybrid animals normally perform better than purebreds

f) Calving ease traits

Physical traits that facilitate easy calving include a wide pelvic diameter (observed from behind) and a gentle slope from pin to hip bone (observed from the side). A cow’s body frame should portray a strong straight back or loin, which is essential during gestation in enabling the animal to comfortably feed as well as carry its foetus to term.

g) Workability

Milking speed is of essence in maximising yield since milk let-down is controlled by oxytocin hormone whose concentration levels in blood diminish with time. It is, therefore, important to choose animals with the right teat size, shape and opening (position and orifice size). Bad temperament interferes with oxytocin flow during milking, thus, one should likewise consider docility when choosing a dairy animal.