How to tell if cows are in heat or not can seem tricky at first, but it’s quite simple and easy to tell. If you’re wondering how to tell if cows are in heat and ready to be bred, this visual appraisal checklist will help you quickly evaluate whether your cow needs the bull or not. This visual appraisal checklist covers all of the common signs of estrous (heat) in cattle, from vulva positioning and discharge color to ear position and overall body condition.
How to Do a Visual Inspection
Once you’ve got yourself a visual appraisal checklist, it’s time to start doing some cow inspections. If you’re buying your first few cows and you want to go at it alone, a good method is to head out with another person (who has a lot more experience than you do) and let them take notes while they watch you as well. By dividing and conquering, they can focus on important points while you get used to using your judgment; all in all, that’s how we learn best when starting. The key thing to remember here is that no two cows are alike, so don’t be too hard on yourself if things don’t look like what you expected or if you make mistakes.
Have you brushed up on your cow’s cleanliness? Proper hygiene is crucial to a healthy pregnancy. Regular bathing is necessary (two times per week in warmer months and once per week in colder months) but so are regular hoof trimmings and tooth brushing. And while you’re there, be sure to check how much cow spit-up you have to deal with; any discharge that contains red streaks warrants a closer inspection. Speaking of close inspections: It’s also vital that both eyes are free of mucus or discharge as ears are cleaned weekly. While it’s not a major turnoff if your bovine has some freckles, they should be kept to a minimum on its belly and hind quarters.
The perfect cow is calm, complacent, and in an overall good mood. If a cow’s attitude is wrong, then other aspects of its anatomy and genetic makeup are likely to be substandard as well. Attitude is very important in cattle, just like it is with people. There’s no point in buying a physically flawless animal if it isn’t going to produce quality offspring because it doesn’t get along with others. Pay attention to how your potential buyer acts around people and other animals when you’re at an auction or out on farms looking at livestock. If a cow seems nervous or timid around humans but seems comfortable among its peers and cattle handlers, that should raise some red flags about why that might be so.
Our first and most important assessment is body condition score, or how fat or thin your cow is. A fat cow will produce a lot more milk than a thin one and can even develop health problems because her body isn’t designed to carry so much extra weight. We like to check our cows every six weeks by looking at their ribcage, back, and hip bones through their skin. If we see red-colored areas on their bodies, that’s called a heat rash – it means she’s too hot in her pen and she should be moved to an area where there are more flies around to eat the sweat that drips off her – which will help keep her cool.
Shape and size. Is there a large, pendulous udder with few teats? Are there two teats on one side and three on the other side? Are all four quarters equally developed? Teats: Length, diameter, and placement. How long are they about body length? Are they evenly spaced or bunched up toward one end? Do they have any abnormalities such as tags or extra folds of skin? Do they point straight forward or are some pointing outward? What about their diameter—are some thicker than others? How far do they project from the body when extended (how far would you expect them to reach when milking)? Are any tilted inward so that milk is squirted onto her hind legs rather than into a bucket or pail?
Legs, Feet, and Tailhead
Look at each cow’s legs, feet, and tailhead to make sure that there are no signs of pain or discomfort. A cow’s tailhead should be neat and free from injury with a good covering of hair and free from lice and blood spots. Look out for cracked hooves which can be a sign that something is not right. Pay particular attention to hoof cleanliness if you are selecting replacement stock as poor foot care is easy to pick up but hard to rectify. Have a close look at the heels where they meet with bare flesh; any signs of sores, thin areas, or bony protrusions indicate potential lameness issues.
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