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Producers begin using the new Angus foot score EPDs

Laura Handke for Progressive Cattleman Published on 24 July 2018
An Angus heifer's hoof

In January, Angus Genetics Inc. (AGI) launched two foot score research expected progeny differences (EPDs):

Claw Set and Foot Angle, becoming the first U.S. breed association to endeavor assessment of foot composition and its implications within both commercial and seedstock herds, with an overall goal of creating a production EPD.

In the middle of the year, the research is in full swing, with producers from across the country submitting data on the animals in their herd, eager to see the development of a tool that will help them improve their herds and, in turn, improve their offerings to commercial cattlemen.

AGI’s director of genetic services, Kelli Retallick, says as a whole, Angus producers have been receptive to the research and willing to submit data. Currently, the research is solely focused on getting feedback from association members, with data submissions spanning three years, since 2015.

“We have had really positive feedback from both the registered and commercial industries,” she shares. “They are glad their data is getting used in an evaluation and looking forward to submitting more in the future.”

Retallick says what AGI is hearing is reassuring – “The EPDs the association currently has published on bulls is following industry trends as far as what producers are seeing phenotypically in bulls currently siring calves,” she says.

Developing scoring consistency

Retallick says the struggle to familiarize and become comfortable scoring is one of the biggest challenges producers are facing in the implementation of foot scoring.

She does offer that, although scoring and submitted data may vary from producer to producer, the variation is not a threat to the integrity of the data submitted.

“Even though my 6 may look a little different than someone else’s 6, or my 6 may be someone else’s 7, as long as we consistently rank those animals, we are going to be able to get enough good information to produce a good EPD,” she says. “Many have found it helpful to work in a team, for reassurance and a second opinion, to help lay the foundation of what a 5 looks like in their herd, and then what a 6 looks like and so on.”

American Angus Association Mid-Atlantic Regional Manager Chris Jeffcoat agrees consistent scoring on the ranch is key to developing a baseline within your herd.

American Angus Association's Chris Jeffcoat, Left and Angus Genetics Inc.'s Dan moser assign foot scores

“The (foot) scoring system is subjective; it isn’t like taking a weaning weight,” he says. “So consistency is important within a herd because those are the animals going to be compared against one another within that herd.”

To help producers become more comfortable with the scoring system and assessment, the AGI team has provided a scoring guide, video tutorials and implemented foot scoring education into their field days held throughout the U.S.

“It’s important to provide education to not only the members of the association but also to the buyers of Angus cattle, and we have really been doing that,” says Jeffcoat. “Myself and other regional managers have been working with producers on a one-on-one basis as well as offering (foot scoring) training at field days.”

To provide further support, AGI has also partnered with college and university livestock judging teams throughout the U.S., providing AGI foot score training to students who are already adept in assessing foot structure and conformation.

The partnership provides local support and guidance to producers while allowing research and outreach opportunities to students and their respective college or university.

“This opportunity has been great for a couple of my students who want to go to graduate school but have a fear of the research component,” says Chase Runyan, assistant professor and livestock judging coordinator, Angelo State University.

“I’ve been able to use this opportunity to approach the subject of participating in the research by helping ranchers learn how to score and become comfortable doing it.”

Runyan shares the students already have a scoring system in their mind from being on the judging team, and he helps them take their assessments and convert them into the AGI numbered score.

While only a few producers have reached out for student assistance, Runyan believes the number will increase as awareness grows surrounding the program and its benefits.

Defining industry standards

Foot assessment isn’t a new concept in the industry, but having evaluation tools and metrics in place to assign scores is providing the practice more consistency and uniformity.

“Foot structure is one of the first and foremost things producers look at when they evaluate cattle,” Jeffcoat says. “It has been top-of-mind for the last several years, but only in the last few years have members had an actual scoring system to classify those cattle.”

The goal of the Angus foot score EPDs and subsequent production EPDs is to bolster the industry standard and see the evaluation incorporated into every segment of the industry for the betterment of structure, increased longevity and profitability.

“This is something not only Angus is talking about, but other breeds as well,” says Retallick. “As a breed association and seedstock producers, we always have that commitment to the commercial industry to make sure we are providing them with the most efficient cattle we can and, obviously, foot structure is something that definitely needs to be in place for an operation to be successful.

We all have the same goal in mind when it comes to the commercial industry.”  end mark

PHOTO 1: An Angus heifer’s hoof from a seedstock ranch in Georgia. Photo by David Cooper.

PHOTO 2: merican Angus Association’s Chris Jeffcoat, left, and Angus Genetics Inc.’s Dan Moser assign foot scores at the Upper Piedmont Research Station, Reidsville, North Carolina. Photo provided by Shauna Rose Hermel, American Angus Association Media.

Laura Handke is a freelance writer based in Kansas. Email Laura Handke