Monday, June 13, 2016

May and June Good Months to Study Haircoats on Cattle

Contact: Eldon Cole, livestock specialist
Headquartered in Lawrence County
Tel: (417) 466-3102

MT. VERNON, Mo. -- May and June are good months to evaluate the hair shedding nature of cattle according to Eldon Cole, livestock specialist, University of Missouri Extension.

“Research at several institutions reveal that early shedding cows tend to be more productive regarding weaning weight of their calves.  Weight differences of 20 or more pounds favored the early shedders,” said Cole.


University of Missouri researchers began scoring cows and yearlings for shedding ability and hair growth in 1992 at the Southwest Research Center.  The cattle in the studies were grazing fescue that contained the toxin producing endophyte. 

Studies dealt with shade, mineral supplementation and clean well water versus dirty pond water that had cattle traffic in it.

“In those early years, we suspected there could be genetic implications that caused some wooly cattle to perform poorly but no serious selection pressure was applied toward the early shedders,” said Cole.

In fact, most of the early effort was directed toward selecting novel or friendly endophytes in the development of non-toxic fescue instead of selecting adaptable cattle.


We now are at the point where both cow-calf producers and seedstock raisers observe hair shedding more seriously. 

“Genomic studies are being used to evaluate the heritability of haircoat retention.  An important feature is to score haircoats of cattle about this time of the year,” said Cole.

Getting rid of the winter haircoat begins in southwest Missouri around early April.  However, some animals still appear to have all their hair in June.

“These late, or never shedders, are the ones that suffer and are more likely to wean lightweight calves and have lower calving rates,” said Cole.


Many factors influence shedding such as breed, individual genetic makeup, nutrition, forage, day length, temperature, and humidity.

“In the early 1990’s at the Southwest Research Center, we scored the cattle on a one to four scale for shedding and evidence of fescue sensitivity.  The scoring system has now been adjusted to a one to five range.  The one score is an animal that is completely shed off from front to rear and top to bottom.  I usually refer to them as ‘slick as a mole’,” said Cole.

The 2’s are mostly shed off, 75 percent or so, and most of the long hair will be on the lower part of the body.  A three score is about 50 percent shed; a four is only 25 percent shed most of which is in the neck, shoulder region and down the back.  The 5’s still has its winter coat with no evidence of shedding.

“If you have the 5’s in the chute, you can try to pull hair out, and it is firmly attached,” said Cole.

The scoring system is subjective. However, if the same person does the scoring in their herd, it gives a producer a good idea of cattle that could give more problems from “hot” fescue and heat stress as we move into the summer. 

According to Cole, some of the 4’s and 5’s that are stressed will benefit from clipping.

“The individual scoring of cattle may even result in farmers realizing that late shedding is more of a problem than first thought,” said Cole.


For more information, contact any of the MU Extension livestock specialists in southwest Missouri: Eldon Cole in Lawrence County, (417) 466-3102; Andy McCorkill in Dallas County at (417) 345-7551; Dr. Randy Wiedmeier, in Howell County at (417) 256-2391; or Dr. Patrick Davis in Cedar County at (417) 276-3313.



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