Putting the Best Foot Forward

Written by: Lane Giess, American Simmental Association, Director of Commerical and Non-traditional Data Programs and Special Projects

For years the beef industry has focused on maximizing cowherd profitability through the tangible, measurable traits; calving ease/birth weight, weaning weight, carcass weight and quality. These are all traits that can impact a commercial cattlemen’s bottomline, but what about the intangibles? If you’ve ever had to cull because of docility, fertility, poor feet and legs, inability to milk, or inadequate mothering ability, you know what I’m talking about. That’s why cow longevity is one of the most important traits to the commercial cattlemen, and at the heart of cow longevity is feet and leg structure.

Soundness is one of those traits at the forefront of discussion among cattlemen across the country, and for good reason, selecting for improved soundness significantly improves the likelihood of an animal to successfully stay in the herd. This reduces culling costs of developing replacements and leads to a much more productive cow herd. The American Simmental Association (ASA) is in the midst of developing tools that the ASA membership and their customers can use to select for improved mobility.

How it’s done:

Soundness can be evaluated on a quantitative scale of measurement to gather phenotypes. A 1 to 9 scale is appropriate where 5 is considered optimum. A sample of traits relating to overall soundness are Claw Shape, Hoof Angle and Rear Leg Set (see the rubrics *below*). When scoring it’s important to score the entire cow herd and whole contemporary groups of yearling to 18-month-old bulls and heifers. 

Bottom Line:

Heritability ranges for feet and leg traits fall in the 0.20 - 0.30 range depending on breed population. This means progress can be made for feet and leg structure over time. Seedstock breeders who pay attention to the genetics of their herd and make selection decisions for improved feet and leg traits in the animals they supply the commercial industry will bring added value to commercial bull buyers who experience issues with soundness.

Trinity Farms:

Recently, Trinity Farms participated in a research project where the entire cow herd was scored for 14 traits relating to feet and leg structure. Over 700 Trinity animals were measured in two days and those animals will ultimately be included in one of the most comprehensive analysis of feet and leg structure and its impact on beef cattle longevity. This study is a continuation of the Kansas State University Feet and Leg analysis funded by the American Simmental Association, Red Angus Association of America and the Kansas Global Food Systems Initiative. Results of this study and more information regarding feet and leg structure will be discussed at the Generations of Excellence Female Sale on October 4.

Chelse Forman