FleckScore – the new quality factor in the exterior assessment of Simmental cattle

The external appearance of animals has played a crucial role for centuries in breeding and selection among cattle breeders. In the era of genomic selection, the importance of the exterior is the subject of controversial discussion. Using the example of how cattle look, it is clear that the interest and emotion shown by breeders in the exterior of animals are continuing unabated.

As well as the positive emotion which ‘good-looking’ cows trigger, external assessment must be able to reflect the optimisation of productive life length according to clearly defined scientific foundations in recording and presentation. Single traits must be clearly defined and lead to comprehensible scores. FleckScore meets these requirements.

The FleckScore System

A system for the proposal of marks whose function is only possible with the use of electronic recording equipment or the online portal www.fleckscore.com should deliver uniform results regardless of the breeding area and assessors. Another breakthrough benefit of the system is the lactation-specific calculation of proposed marks. FleckScore is thus able to deliver exterior assessments which describe the deviation from the population mean over lactations and thus take account of a cow’s further physical development.

2 major differences compared with the systems used to date characterise FleckScore:

  • Derivation of the scores of main traits through a mark proposal system
  • Representation of the scores of main traits on a 100-point scale

The new system does not introduce any change in the list of single and main traits. Linear single traits are described, as hitherto, on a scale 1 to 9. To calculate the proposed marks, contributions from single traits are weighted according to their effect on length of productive life. The proposal shown for the feet and legs and udder complex may be amended by the assessor by +/- 3 points. So an expert eye is still sought for the ability to adapt the proposal to a specific animal.

Table 1: Statement of scores for Frame/Musculature/Feet and legs/Udder in FleckScore 

The population mean, independent of lactation, corresponds to about 80 points on a range of the scale of 68-93 points in the case of heifers and a further upping of the scale in the case of multiparous  cows.


Key traits in detail


FRAME

The proposed mark for FRAME is calculated from the measured single traits: withers height, body length, hip width and body depth. These are weighted in the ratio 3:1:1:1. This means that a cow with identical dimensions receives lactation-specific different frame marks because the reference is made to the population mean (Table 2).

Table 2: Lactation-specific scores with identical dimensions using the example FRAME


MUSCULARITY

In the MUSCULARITY complex, the presentation of the haunch in accordance with the EUROP system is described. Mean trait presentation is entered with 80 points and corresponds to Grade R with a straight or slightly convex presentation of the haunch.


FEET AND LEGS

The proposed mark FEET AND LEGS is composed of the four single traits set out in Graph 1. The weighting of the traits is based on scientific studies which reflect the impact on the optimisation of productive life length.
Defects not defined as main traits (e.g. cow hocked) automatically reduce the proposed mark in accordance with their contributions to longevity.

Graph 1: Weighting of single traits for calculating the complex mark FEET AND LEGS


Table 3
: Lactation-specific scores where single traits are identical using the example FEET AND LEGS


UDDER

In the calculation of the proposed marks for UDDER, the nine single traits indicated in Graph 2 are weighted according to their effect on productive life length. In the case of UDDER also, defined defects (e.g. stepped udder) result in deductions in the total score.

Graph 2: Weighting of single traits for calculating the UDDER score


On the basis of scientific foundations, it is above all hock angularity and udder floor - although also the traits fore udder attachment, teat placement and suspensory ligament, as well as hock presentation - which thus crucially affect cow longevity. Cows which present well as regards these traits of relevance to productive life length obtained higher scores, the level of which proves in turn to be lactation-specific (Tables 3 and 4).

Table 4: Lactation-specific scores with identical marks taking udder as the example


Udder cleanliness is checked as part of the assessment and existing any additional teats are recorded. These do not affect the calculation of the proposed UDDER mark. Udder cleanliness is an independent trait of the linear description and, as an included breeding value, part of the bar graph of bulls.

FleckScore improves transparency and comparability


The system is able to identify outstanding cows even more clearly than was previously the case. Using the example of the udder in the picture, that should be made clear. The cow was assessed in the 2nd lactation with the single marks specified and was awarded as many as 93 points in respect of the udder.

 

Application of FleckScore

Linear descriptions of heifers have been carried out using FleckScore since 2012 as part of exterior performance testing. The data collected are relevant to breed assessment and can optionally be released for publication in various publications (such as auction catalogues).


Explanation of the illustration above:
The cow MUSTER was assessed using the FleckScore system (values against a yellow background): In the case of the frame, the cow, having been marked 75, is small-framed. The withers height was measured as being 139 cm. A mark for musculature of 85 denotes good to very good beef conformation in the hindquarters. With a mark of 76 for feet and legs, below average quality can be assumed. With a mark of 86 for the udder, the cow is assessed as clearly above average for this trait. Her dam was also assessed using FleckScore in the 3rd lactation. According to her assessment, with a score of 91-74-85-80 K151, the cow exhibits an extremely large frame with weak musculature. With a mark of 85 for conformation, a significant strength in respect of this trait can be assumed. The udder is assessed as meriting 80 points and thus corresponds to the population mean for third calving cows.

By 2014 it was decided by the Austrian Simmental breeding association that dams of genotyped candidates should be to described using the new system. Since bull dam assessments using FleckScore are now being conducted at the same time in Bavaria also, it should therefore be ensured that the assessments of cows of breeding relevance are fully comparable regardless of the breeding areas and that the scores awarded are subject to a clearly comprehensible derivation from the single marks according to the reference for optimising the length of productive life.

Quellen: Luntz, B. ,  Krogmeier, D., Pfleger, R. (2014)