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Over-Scored and Over-Rated – Are we helping or hurting the dairy cattle classification system?

It seems that daily there is a new EX-95 cow somewhere in the world, or a VG-89-2yr that will never see the light of day.  While in many cases these cows deserve the recognition they receive, it also seems at times that cows are getting over scored.  However, there comes a point where the animal needs to be worthy of the score, as many breeders have expressed to us here at The Bullvine, they are getting tired of watching cows get over scored.

Over the years I have seen cows get over scored for many reasons.  The most prevalent among them have been:

  • Dispersal
    I see it often.  A breeder who has been a long-standing member of the dairy industry is selling out (typically because the next generation does not have the same passion in relation to the reward), and they decide to sell their Master Breeder herd.  Just before the sale they have a dispersal special classification.  During that time, there are reliably a few animals that get an extra point or two.  I am not trying to say this is totally a bad thing, as I do believe these long established breeders do deserve some level of recognition.  I just get concerned when I see cows that should be 92 to 93 points at best being bumped to 95 points.  When you put these animals beside other 95-point animals you will typically find significant difference in how they resemble the breed ideal.
  • Show Results
    Just because a 2-year-old won the local county show, or a cow was All-Canadian does not mean they deserve the maximum score.  There is a difference between what shines in the show ring and what should be the 89-point 2 year old in the classification system.  I have seen cows that could not even content at the Royal or Madison go 89 points that, when you break them down, should be no higher than 87 points.  Nevertheless, since she won some show, and someone got in the classifiers’ ear this does happen.
  • High Value Animals
    This is the worst one I have seen by far and the one that has the greatest impact on the breed and breed improvement.  It happens when a cow that should really be 83 points (at best) as a 2 year old gets classified 85 points, because she is one of the top index animals in the world.  Now I am sure they will get an amazing photo, but how much can you trust that?  (Read more: Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct) This is the greatest disservice the classification program can do.  These animals will now have their genetics marketed around the world. The perception of high conformation will have a greater impact than all the other biased factors combined.  Makes me think – Is Good Plus Good Enough?

All these headaches with cows being over scored reminds me of the many conversations I have had with my father, Murray Hunt, (he ran the Canadian classification program for many years) and Tom Byers, currently in charge of the classification program (Read more: Tom Byers: “That’s Classified!”).  Tom would point out to me that as a percentage there is actually just the same proportion of cows going to the extremes as their ever was.  It’s since there is more dairy cattle being classified and the power of the internet that we are seeing more of these animals. (Read more:   The Anti-Social Farmer: On The Verge of Extinction) Then Murray will add that we need classifiers to use the full range of the system in order to ensure the best results.  You see the wider the spread in scores the greater the difference in the resulting genetic evaluations.  Instead of being afraid to use the extreme scores, classifiers should actually use it more.  Both for the 89 point 2 year olds, as well as the 65-point ones.

The greater the range the more accurately the genetic evaluation system is able to identify those sires that can breed your extremes.  I think as an industry we do ourselves a disservice by having mainly a 17-point range (75-92) in final score.  In order to truly identify top animals we need to be able to spread them out as much as possible, so that we can pick the best from the rest.  It’s when we stick to the middle that we actually do the most damage to the genetic evaluation system.  When all animals are so closely scored that those animals that do sire the good ones do not rise to the top.  It’s also why classifiers should slap on the Fair-65 classification more often.  Remember classification is relative and dynamic.  A cow that might have been an 89 point 2-year-old 10 years ago might be lucky to go 85 to 87 points today.  It’s not about comparing to the past, but rather identifying the current outliers in the breed. Hence why we need to use the full range of the system.  To accurately identify the true outliers.

Now both Tom and dad would point out to me, how can you stand in a breeders barn and put a score of 65 on one of his cows and ever expect to be back there again to classify.  And I understand that. Trust me years of dad telling me stories about going into different herds and how breeders reacted to certain situations would make a great book. The bigger issues is that there is a perception challenge with using the full spectrum.  Many breeders do not want to be pay money to be told their cow is ugly. But I ask you, why do you classify in the first place?  Is it not to advance the genetics and management of your herd?  Then why do you not let the system work to it’s maximum potential?

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Type Classification has two main purposes, marketing and breed improvement.  From the marketing standpoint I can understand the benefit of over scoring some cows from time to time.  The part that worries me more is when classifiers don’t use the full range as often as possible.  Not just in overall score, but especially in the scoring of each trait as well.  The more often classifiers use the extremes the greater the breed’s rate of advancement will be.  This will help the genetic evaluation system truly identify those sires that are the best for type.  After all isn’t that why we keep score in the first place?


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