U For All Things Udder-Related

When we’re selecting which cows to breed replacements from (heifer calves who will join the herd and carry on that breeding line), one of the most important criteria to us is udder confirmation. It’s up there in the top three, alongside good feet and temperament.

Udder – A bag-shaped organ consisting of the mammary glands and teats on female ruminants, like cows and sheep. Cows have 4 teats on theirs and sheep have 2. Also known as their ‘bag’.

Without a good udder, you’re asking for some trouble along the way.

Teats that are too big or point in all directions like wonky signposts can be hard for newborn calves to latch onto. Not to mention, the higher risk of mastitis that comes with a badly shaped udder.

We aim for a cow to have four, even, medium sized teats, that all point downwards and are equally spaced out. Their udder has four mammary glands which all produce milk, called quarters, and uniform quarters, with a teat in the centre of each one, is the goal.

Although, some cows (the majority of ours) have some extra teats, called Supernumerary teats- but these don’t usually (or shouldn’t, I’m looking at you Essie!) have a mammary gland attached to them and produce any milk. We call them blind teats when they don’t have any milk.

Some cows produce more milk from their rear two quarters than the front two, which makes their udder look uneven, with big, bulging back quarters and small, tight front ones. That’s the reason Big Glenda, one of the favourites around here for her love of scratches, will never be having any daughters kept in the herd. Her udder definitely isn’t the prettiest, but it’s functional and doesn’t cause her or her calves any problems, so far, so she just produces calves for beef.

Glenda- Spot her uneven quarters…

We also look for a well-hung udder, where the ligaments attaching it are strong. As a cow ages and has multiple calves, her udder will begin to get looser and lower to the ground, but ones that are attached well won’t get as saggy.

Poorly attached ones can hang like pendulums, getting lower and lower to the floor each year and increasing their risk of mastitis. Plus, it’s not exactly easy for a newborn calf to feed if it has to almost kneel down to find the teat!

Last but not least, there’s milk yield. The nicest, most well-attached udder in the world is still a problem if it doesn’t produce enough milk to feed the calf well!

Strict selection means we only have a handful of cows, out of the 30-ish in the herd, who’ve made it onto the list to have a round of AI each year, to try get them in-calf to a different bull, so we can keep their daughters. Hopefully though, that means we’ll have many more who tick all the boxes to choose from in the future, as we selectively improve the genetics of the herd.

Even a structurally sound udder can have problems though.

Bluebell, one of the heifers we’ve kept for breeding, who’s due her first calf this Spring, has developed warts on her teats.

It’s quite common for young cattle to get warts, and as it’s a virus, their bodies should fight them off then become immune to any more. But Bluebell has a big, golf ball-like one on the end of one of her teats, which obviously isn’t ideal for a breeding animal. After advice from our vets, we’ve cut off the blood supply to the wart by putting a rubber-ring around the neck of it, so hopefully, it’ll die and fall off before her calf’s born!

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