by Lorraine Strenkowski
Jeffrey Cone, owner of River Plain Dairy in Lebanon, CT has his registered Holsteins evaluated annually. He met with classifier Mike Nolan, a former dairy farmer from New York state, for an early morning appointment. Cone provides registration papers for his herd and he and Nolan stay ahead of the milker as they move through the 45 cow dairy barn.
“This is important to me,” Cone states. “I’m proud of my herd and their milk production.”
Nolan has been classifying for 18 years and is not confined to New England. “The Holstein Association provides service for the entire United States,” he explains.
There is a wide range of members/breeders who participate in the Holstein Association’s classification process, an evaluation system based on body type for registered Holsteins. The Holstein Association USA Inc., offers a myriad of programs to fit individual needs. In the ‘Classic’ program, all cattle are required to be evaluated, including those with permanent scores. In the ‘Standard’ program, all cows are to be evaluated except dry cows and those with permanent scores. The ‘Limited’ program is for those who only want previously unscored cows to be classified. The ‘Breeder’s Choice’ allows personal selection, and the ‘Introductory’ choice are for the animals who have not been classified in four years or more.
Once you have decided on a program that best fits your needs, you can schedule a classifier to visit your farm. The Holstein Association USA has 23 classifiers who rotate across the United States. A classifier comes to an area every seven months, and must be scheduled 60 days in advance. A breeder, on average, will have his herd evaluated once or twice a year.
Classifying your registered Holstein is invaluable when breeding for type. This allows a breeder to choose a sire who has the traits desired. Each cow’s offspring can then gain in the area where her dam had lacked. This process strengthens and defines the individual animal and in doing so, keeps the true ‘dairyness’ of the Holstein.
A cow’s final score is based on five categories: Front End & Capacity counts for 20 percent; Dairy Strength is 20 percent, Rump is 5 percent, Feet and Legs are 15 percent and Udder counts for 40 percent. The classifier gives each of these categories a numerical value ranging from 1-100. The number reflects the desirability of the individual compared to the breed ideal. Between 90-97 points is (E) Excellent; 85-89 (V) Very Good; 80-84 (+) Good Plus; 75-79 (G) Good; 65-74 (F) Fair; and 50-64 (P) is Poor. Within this scoring of the five major categories, the classifier also considers age, number of lactations and stage of lactation. The classifier is equipped with a calculator designed to automatically calculate numerical values weighted with the category percentages.
Each major breakdown category has subcategories in which to consider. Front End & Body Capacity includes specification on front end (adequate constitution with front legs straight), chest (deep and wide), barrel (long with adequate depth and width), back/loin (straight and strong), stature (height including length in leg bone) and breed characteristics (overall style and balance). Dairy Strength includes ribs (wide apart), width of chest (capacity for vital organs), spring of fore rib (well sprung), thighs (lean) withers (sharp), neck (long, lean and blending into shoulders) and finally skin (thin, loose and pliable. The Rump has four specifications: angle, width, vulva and tail head. Feet and Legs include rear legs/rear view (straight, wide apart), rear legs/side view, locomotion (use of feet/direction), feet (steep angle, deep heel), thurl position, hocks, bone and pasterns. The Udder is the most highly valued of the five categories. Consideration is given to the traits that contribute to high milk yield and are listed in priority order: udder depth (moderate), fore udder (firmly attached), rear udder (wide and high), teat placement (squarely placed), udder cleft (strong suspensory ligament), udder balance and texture (balanced quarters, soft and pliable).
With a priority concern for breeding in his herd, Cone keeps a close eye. His registered Holsteins are now being pastured on wheat grass, and he wonders how it will effect production. With yearly evaluation Cone can make changes in crops, pasture management and comfort measures. Out on “the Plains” (40 acres dedicated seasonally to corn) Cone and his daughter Rachel view the herd and his best cow ‘Fantastic’ who scored a 92.
“My goal is to have them all reach ‘Excellent!’”