Udder and teat quality are two functional characteristics of the cow that often go unnoticed until problems arise. Just as seedstock producers put selection pressure on birth, weaning and yearling weights, the same concern and effort should be placed on udder quality.

“Take the time to observe, record and report,” says Twig Marston, University of Nebraska Extension beef specialist, Norfolk. “At calving, we now record birth date and weight, calving ease and administer ID. Why not take 30 more seconds to make cows better?”

Score udders and teats

To effectively score a cow, udders and teats must be scored separately. Such a system must be simple, direct and memorable without requiring the user to refer to charts and photographs.

The system's real purpose is to place a value on an udder and teats that will provide descriptive information that relates to the effectiveness with which a newborn calf can find a teat quickly and nurse without assistance.

To accurately score an udder and teats to reflect exactly what confronts the newborn calf requires that such scoring be completed as the new calf first attempts to nurse. Thus, scoring should be completed as close to the actual time of calving as possible, and preferably prior to the calf nursing for the first time. After all, removal of some of the milk will result in the reduction of the actual size of the udder and teats and thus lead to inaccurate udder and teat scores.

A basic four-grade scoring system of A, B, C and D for udders, and a corresponding four-score system of 1, 2, 3 and 4 for teats, provides an effective and descriptive scoring tool that's easy to remember and applicable by anyone. Such a system provides necessary information for management decisions.

Scoring udders

  • An A udder score is the highest quality — held up high, snug and close to the body, above the hocks in the rear and level across the floor and forward to a firmly attached front. From the rear, the udder should have an extremely strong cleft.
  • B udder — hangs either at or just slightly lower than level with the hocks. It is slightly lower at the front suspension with an intermediate attachment.
  • C udder — when viewed from the rear is slightly to below the hocks, and the cleft will be slight to weak. The front attachment is loosely connected and beginning to hang low.
  • D udder — very deep, hanging well below the hocks, with a cleft that's very weak to nonexistent. The front suspension is extremely loose, hanging well below the midsection of the cow, and the udder is absent of structure, shape and conformation.

A D udder hangs so low as to make initial nursing for the newborn calf difficult. Such cows should be recorded for culling from the herd at weaning time or before the next calving season.

Scoring teats

Teats are scored individually and separate from udders. A 1 score represents the best teats; a 4 is the lowest quality.

  • A 1 score reflects a small diameter teat of short length. For comparison, a 1 teat would be similar to comparing the little finger of a human hand to the rest of the fingers.
  • A teat scoring 2 is larger in diameter and length but still very functional. In the context of the human hand, a 2 teat would be an index finger, with a 1 teat being the little finger.
  • A 3 score represents a diameter and length that could become problematic for the calf to begin nursing in the next year or more. In relation to a human hand, it would be a thumb compared to the little finger, or a teat three times the diameter of the teat with a score of 1.
  • A 4 score is reserved for teats that most likely will require management assistance to get a calf started nursing. These teats would be comparable in size to the entire fist of the hand. These cows should be recorded and culled at weaning or before the next calving season.

While this proposed scoring system appears very basic, it fulfills a need that currently isn't being met by more complex scoring systems that require significant training and reference materials. Thus, a basic system put to practical use is of more value than a more complex system that is little used.

See associated figure.

Dan Kniffen is a Penn State University assistant professor of Extension, cow-calf.