The decision to have our Little Oakley herd of English Longhorns classified was a straightforward one. My day job is as a nutritionist within the dairy sector and many of my, admittedly more progressive, dairy clients have their cows scored on an on-going basis. Whilst I haven’t asked them directly, I believe they do this help them make breeding decisions and to provide confirmation that their direction of travel is the right one. The use of classifying with the UK pedigree dairy sector is commonplace.
I have had a connection with cattle for over 40 years and, as such, I think I have a reasonable ability to differentiate a group of cattle. However, this is my view and, as is the case with most things it may not actually be the case. It had been over 12 years since we bought our six foundation Longhorn heifers from a couple of herds in Wiltshire. Since then we’ve only used a small number of bulls on the herd, four in fact, and their impact has been quite noticeable especially those which have had a negative influence. During the early years in an effort to grow the herd we kept most daughters. In more recent times we have culled harder and sold some heifers; we’ve been in position to be more selective. It was good time to confirm, either way, whether our breeding/culling decisions had been the right ones.
There is genetic variation within every breed and the degree to which this exists obviously varies considerably. Whilst on paper it doesn’t appear that the English Longhorn breed has as much scope and variation as most other breeds, in reality it is quite clear that this is not the case. One only has to visit one of the Breed Society sales to witness this for oneself.
Therefore, given all of these factors the opportunity to have our herd classified was one that I felt was a valid one. A call was made to Debbie and from there an appointment was made for a classifier to meet at a field in rural Northamptonshire in early July last year. Debbie did mention the cost, it can’t have been too steep as I can’t actually remember what this was. Once on site it did occur to me that it might be a complete waste of time. Our cows don’t get the human contact that some herds get so I began to think that we were going to be chasing the cattle around without getting anywhere near. However, the classifier was very relaxed and confident that within a few minutes the herd would calm down and she would be able to get down to business. Sure enough within half an hour or so the job was done, our herd had been scored. The classifier uses a handheld device and simply punches in numbers which all go together to provide a final score. During the process various comments/observations are made, some positive some negative, a few of which I wasn’t aware of. Having the classifier visit also focuses one’s eye on one’s cattle, it’s a bit like not seeing the wood for the trees? One can often become blind the most obvious things that are right in front of us but are noticeable to others, especially trained others.
In conclusion, I would strongly recommend that breeders take advantage of this service. I am confident that they will find it very useful and I strongly recommend being present when the classifier visits. They will definitely learn something from the process whilst also receiving confirmation as to quality of their herd. We have had it confirmed what we need to focus on when choosing our next bull and when selecting those heifers to keep as replacements.
Ewan Mackintosh, Little Oakley Herd, Northamptonshire