Classification: How To Prep Well for The Big Day

Published on Thu, 02/24/2022 - 11:35am

Classification: How To Prep Well for The Big Day.

 By Jaclyn Krymowski.

 Classification on the farm can be a big day, both for the extra preparatory labor and the excitement of cows reaching new scores. There are a handful of ways to prepare the herd for a smooth classification (or appraisal, depending on your preferred term) prior to the day of. But remember that’s it’s not just the active steps you take to help your animals present themselves, there is also the whole rest of the year where good management makes a difference.

Nutrition, comfort, and general management all play a role in the cows’ health and body condition. While not the entirety of an appraisal, these are certainly contributing factors. Most important of all are of course the genetics and the breeding selections at the foundation of an animal’s structural correctness. However, long-term maintenance – the “nurture” side of the equation – absolutely makes an impact on scores.

With that in mind, you still want to maintain a healthy understanding of classification as a tool. Even if you don’t show or sell genetics, classification allows you to see where your herd aligns according to their breed and age in comparison to the rest of the national population.

Leading up to the day
Maintaining an ideal body condition score (BCS) across the herd keeps cows looking clean from head to tail. Animals who are struggling, unthrifty or otherwise outside the standard BCS should consider skipping classification.

Holstein Canada reminds that the overarching goals of classifying cattle (and in accordance with breed goals), aims to select cows with optimal workability that are: easy to work with, more resistant to breakdown or disease, and trouble-free and lower maintenance. With those details in mind, you want to be sure that your environment where animals live and are classified reflects them.

Keep the flow of traffic to and from where you will be classifying as clean and smooth as possible. This is an opportunity to make any necessary repairs to gates, holding pens and walkways. Consider also the time of year and any weather-related concerns that could frustrate your animals or classfier. Be sure the area has fans, heaters, water and anything else you might need and that they are all easily accessible for the comfort of people and animals. It may also be worth having a few extra hands on the farm to assist with moving cattle throughout the day.

Day of classification
On the big day of classification, you may need to adjust milking and other chores slightly. You want to be sure the cows’ udders are not overfilled or that they aren’t standing too long waiting for the classifiers to go through.

Feeding before classification is best if you can manage it – having a bit of fill to the rumen will help showcase a cow’s body capacity to the fullest. Other categories, including dairy character, frame, feet and legs and udder can’t really be influenced. However, some fill to the udder is helpful to bring out its true form and shape.

While the idea of classification is to evaluate a cow in her natural “work clothes” you do want to have your animals be moderately clean. Also keep on hand your registration papers and other herd records to assist the classifier as needed.

Putting the data to use
The information and data from each classification is a huge asset in current and future mating decisions. It’s easy to laser focus on some star animals and cow families, especially if there is excitement for them to score higher and improve with maturity. However, finding the large group trends with certain sires, family lines and time periods is an important element in widespread herd improvement.

“Classification is an important herd management tool which helps producers make improvements to the functional conformation of their dairy herds,” says Holstein Canada.

With that in mind, you want to especially note the recurring weak traits and strong points throughout the herd. From here you can make adjustments in your sire selection to amend and reinforce them accordingly. You can also take a long hard look at themes in the weaker cows of your herd and considering who may be eligible for the cull list and who has heifers you may or may not want to retain.

Even if an animal isn’t quite eligible for the cull list, consider the impact scoring will have on her (or her daughters’) sale value. This is especially valuable if you have many generations of classified cows behind her.

Classification is an exciting day of the year, and it can be one that is part of building a better future for the herd. Remember it isn’t necessarily about the value of an individual cow on paper, but this is more so about unlocking the tools to build a herd that meets your goals and standards.