Cowherd on grass

How fast do your cows shed winter hair? It matters

How quickly your cows shed makes a big difference in how well they do during the summer, and not just in fescue country.

Courtesy of University of Missouri Extension

How quickly your cows slick off in the spring has implications, and not just the opportunity for your neighbors to jab you about how scroungy they look. Early shedders wean heavier calves, suffer less heat stress, tend to breed back more readily and are more attractive to look at than animals that retain their winter coat all summer.

"Hair shedding is around 0.35% heritable. That means you can select cattle that shed off more quickly than others," says Eldon Cole, livestock specialist with University of Missouri Extension. May is a good time to score your cow herd for hair shedding, he adds.

That’s particularly true for cattle producers in fescue country as warm weather sets in and the threat of fescue toxicosis comes with it. "One practice that may help your cattle's performance on 'hot' fescue is to observe your herd for quick shedding animals," Cole says.

A scorecard on each animal can be made on a 1 to 5 basis. Each April or May, simply observe each of your breeding females for completeness of hair shedding. A score of 1 is an animal that is completely shed off; their coat is sleek and shiny with even hair on the lower part of the body gone.

 

This cow is a 1 on hair score. The picture was taken in the same pasture as the 4 hair score cow, also in late May.

A score of 2 is given to animals with about 75% of their hair shed off. Most of the hair on the upper part of their body will be gone. The 3's have shed about 50% of their hair and a 4 will only have shed 25% of their winter coat. Finally, a 5 score is one that retains their winter coat even in the heat of mid-summer.

This cow is a typical 4 hair score. This picture was taken in late May.

"You will be surprised at the variation you find within your herd for shedding. As you work toward a more productive cowherd, use shedding along with growth, performance, carcass EPD's," says Cole. "We do not have a hair shedding EPD yet, but someday we might."

Cole says it is important to note that besides genetic differences; age, nutrition and season of calving can all affect shedding status.

"Some slow shedders may still calve on a regular basis and wean above average weight calves and vice versa. If that's the case, I will hold on to them as long as they perform well," said Cole.

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