The impact shedding has on cattle health and profitability
As happy as producers are to ditch their own winter coats as warmer weather arrives, they may be even more excited when their cattle shed their heavy, hairy coats prior to the onset of hot, humid days. Cattle in this part of the country that continue to hold on to all or part of their winter coats into spring and summer, can face health and production issues. Thus, impacting a producer’s profitability.
Though it varies from animal to animal, for the most part, cattle will start shedding from front to back and from their topline to their belly. According to University of Missouri Extension specialists, the last places an animal sheds is its lower quarter above its hock and its underline.
Multiple factors come into play to determine when an animal will shed its cold season coat. “Weather, age, nutritional status and genetics impact when cattle will shed off their winter hair,” Elizabeth MacConnell Picking, Field Specialist in Livestock with University of Missouri Extension, explained. In some cows, no shedding or slow shedding can be a red flag that the animal has a health issue. “Older cows, as well as thin and sick cattle, may shed their hair more slowly in the spring,” MacConnell Picking added.
Regardless of their current health status, as the blazing days of summer approach, animals that keep their winter hair or are slow to lose it, incur higher amounts of heat stress compared to their earlier shedding counterparts. And the lower an animal’s heat stress, the higher its production. “Reducing heat stress, especially when grazing endophyte infected tall fescue, can help to improve milk production and average daily gain and weaning weights on calves,” MacConnell Picking said.
Genetics play a role in when and how much an animal sheds its winter coat in the spring. “Hair shedding does have a genetic component and hair shedding EPDs are starting to become available for producers to use when selecting sires,” MacConnell Picking stated. Producers may want to consider utilizing the hair shedding EPD as another factor when identifying potential herd sires or replacement females. However, not all breed associations currently offer a hair shedding EPD for their animals.
If producers choose to consider hair shedding as a factor in culling, then they may want to implement hair shedding scores for the animals in their operation. “Hair shedding scores can be a useful tool for selecting replacements and making culling decisions,” MacConnell Picking said.
Hair shedding scores consist of a scoring system of one to five, with one being a slick summer coat and five being a full winter coat. “Like body condition scoring, hair shedding scores can be somewhat subjective, so it is best to have a single person on the farm score all cattle,” MacConnell Picking explained. “May is a great time to record hair shedding scores,” she added. For more detailed specifics about how to implement a hair shedding scoring system producers can reach out to their local university extension livestock specialist.