I was in Ontario on an “aAa” tour and the same subject came up twice. First a young Dutch couple and next an experienced Canadian breeder commented on the strength of the cow market. Quota was being assigned for more fall milk needed in the Ontario market, and dairies were adding summer-fall calving cows, at prices from $2500 to $3000 per cow.
“Why the $500 differential?” I asked. Was it related to age? To pedigree? Genetic value or Genomic testing? None of the above. It was totally visual. “When the fancy one came in the ring, bidding picks up, more interested buyers, and you earn the higher price” so says Rene Strick of Woodstock. It was the same with John Dortman of Strathroy, who was selling fresh cows he purchased as thin heifers last season to help neighbors short of feed. “I have handled sale animals for years and the market has come back to buying with their eye. All the genetics on paper is not keeping these commercial barns full. They will pay more for better type, because the commercial type has not lasted for them.”
What is the eyeball difference between “commercial type” and “better type”?
(1) Balanced udders. Not big full rear udders, not bulgy fore udders, but an evenly formed and snug udder, with teats that hang plumb and central to the quarters—a visually milkable udder, up out of the way of harm when feeding or lying in free stalls, avoiding the meatiness that makes them age faster.
(2) Good bodies. Not shallow, not narrow, not slabby ribbed, but expressing some capacity for the forage content of the modern lower cost ration. Proportional in length, width and depth to fit within a new standard free stall. Open and elastic in the rear rib and flank to aid in persistency. 1300 pound heifers that become 1700 pound cows.
(3) Feminine with style. A cow should not look like a steer or a race horse. She should have a bit of feminine refinement in her head, neck and bone quality. She needs a wedgy shaped body (a “sharp” shoulder with broad chest, ribs angle back deeper toward the belly, widen from front end to a broadly placed hip, pelvic structure open enough to house the udder as it matures).
(4) Fluid motion legs. Neither “curved” nor “straight”, but erect enough to hold skeleton up and springy enough in joints to avoid crampiness. They need some substance of bone to support weight and they need to be positioned properly, both rear AND front legs, to carry the load evenly and prevent uneven hoof wearing. A sturdy stance with a straight tracking in the front end.
(5) Well blended. First, the sort of appetite that helps a cow avoid a persistent negative energy state. Second, enough muscle cover over bones to not only aid in mobility but to cushion bones from injury.