Collecting foot scores for improved structure
March 2, 2018
A rancher's definition of the "ideal" beef animal may differ based on his or her opinions of body condition, muscularity, frame size, breed and overall appearance, but there's one thing every cattleman can agree on — structural integrity is the key to having cattle that perform well in a feedlot or track across pastures and have the longevity to stick around in the herd for years to come.
In an effort to breed cattle with solid feet and legs, Angus Genetics, Inc. has started collecting foot scores from Angus breeders across the country, following requests from members to look into the issue of soundness in breeding stock.
"Our members approached us in 2014 about this issue; they wanted to be able to record feet issues they were seeing and try to clean it up in the breed," said Kelli Retallick, AGI director of genetic services. "Since we started collecting the data in 2015, we have received 21,000 foot scores from 30 states across the U.S."
Schiefelbein Farms, an Angus seedstock operation from Kimball, Minn., was among the original participants. Tim Schiefelbein says they collected scores on heifers while they were in the chute gathering yearling weight information.
"Scoring was really simple once we familiarized ourselves with the foot scoring system," Schiefelbein said. "It probably added an extra 10 seconds in the chute for the guy writing down the weights, so it was really easy to do. This is an easy system, and it definitely wasn't too technical or difficult to determine a score."
Once the data is collected, producers can easily submit the information on the American Angus Association website, much like they would input weaning or yearling weights into the system.
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According to the AAA foot score guidelines, which rank feet in a scale of 1-9, both foot angle and claw set are measured. In order to provide accurate data for the ongoing research, animals must be scored prior to any hoof trimming. When there is variation among an animal's feet, the worst foot should be recorded. Yearling heifers must be 320-460 days old, and yearling bulls should be between 320-440 days old.
Older females can also be scored and provide more variation between each animal. AAA noted that foot structure changes as animals age. Scores will be adjusted for age as part of the analysis. Scores should describe the animal as they are at the time of scoring, without consideration of age. Large groups of 18-month or 2-year-old bulls can also be submitted, if available.
"We recommend producers collect the data when they already have the cattle in the chute," Retallick said. "This could be when collecting yearling weights, scanning for ultrasound data or doing pre-breeding shots. We are looking specifically at two traits, the foot angle and the claw set. A score of 5 is ideal and has an approximate 45-degree angle at the pastern joint. We also want symmetrical claws, with appropriate space between the claws."
When collecting foot scores, the Schiefelbeins didn't notice huge variations in the foot angle; however, the claw set is where they observed greater differences.
"We didn't see many claw sets that were open and turned out, but we saw several that curled inward," Schiefelbein said. "Definitely, the information we gathered helped us identify problems and compare different sires. We were easily able to tell which sires we might want to avoid in the future that may be passing down structural issues to their offspring."
AGI will continue to collect data in the upcoming year, and they anticipate within 12 months, there might be enough data to formulate an official production EPD for foot scores, which would be available for producers to reference on registration papers and in recorded EPD information. AGI is formulating its research EPD, which is a prelude to the production EPD, following a system currently in use by Australian Angus breeders. AAA is the first breed in the U.S. to conduct this type of research; however, a few other breeds are currently working with Kansas State University on foot scores, as well.
"Considering our preliminary analysis and the 12,000 data points we currently have to evaluate, we can estimate that there is a 25 percent heritability for both claw set and foot angle," Retallick said. "This tells us that we can make improvements on these traits through genetic selection. We'll need more data to fully take advantage of this information, but we have published information on several Angus sires that have 40 percent accuracy in these two traits."
Membership participation is still needed, and Retallick says this meaningful feedback from Angus breeders will benefit seedstock and commercial cattlemen alike.
"We want people to have the opportunity to select for females and herd bulls that will have longevity in the herd, and we want feedlot cattle to have the structural integrity to avoid problems that might arise before they are finished," Retallick said. "The Angus breed is working hard to stay ahead of the needs of the commercial cattle industry, and it's thanks to the foresight of our membership who have driven this research forward by providing accurate data and feedback."
For more information about foot score guidelines, go to http://www.angus.org/performance/footscore/footscoreposter.pdf.
To watch a video demonstrating how to collect foot score data, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aw4ZJNcW_d0&feature=youtu.be. ❖
— Radke is a cattle rancher, freelance writer and agricultural speaker from Mitchell, S.D. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.