Selecting young cattle for future breeding is as much an art as it is a science. It’s a guessing game in regards to future temperament, productivity, milking ability and mothering. Temperament in cows is an important trait to keep in mind especially with a small herd.
Temperament in many animals is hereditary.
Good sound feet, sturdy legs, a nice straight top line and a feminine appearance are all important considerations when selecting foundation breeding stock. And all things being equal I also select cattle by low head whorls.
Some cows are just born crazy. They have a wild streak and there’s not much to be done about it. Crazy cattle are harder to handle and can end up hurting themselves or you. Rowdy cattle will run into walls and try to jump fences and holding pens trying to get away from people. I call it “crashing”. Unmanageable cattle can be dangerous in both a squeeze chute and in an open pasture. Trust me life is too short to put up with crazy cows.
When buying a group of cattle or even just a single animal, I always judge temperament by using three different assessments.
The first is I watch to see how the animal or the group of animals reacts to a stranger (me) in a standing open lot. Next I watch to see whether or not the animal crashes during handling or with a little pressure to move. Lastly I also note the position of the head whorl on the animal .
The first two behavior tests are obvious. But judging cattle temperament by a head whorl is maybe not so obvious.
A facial head whorl is where the hair on a cow or horse’s face meets. Head whorls are simply cowlicks on the face.
Generally the lower the whorl on the face, the less high-strung and calmer the animal will be. The whorl should be at or just above eye level on the face. It is best to avoid very high whorls and especially very uneven whorls high on the face.
The example above is a crossbred Kerry heifer with a very low facial head whorl. Notice that the whorl is just below eye level. This heifer was usually calm.
Selection by head whorls is not fool-proof, but when combined with the other two factors, it can help pick good heifers out of a big lot.