From my personal opinion, I feel like structure is hands down the most important to pay attention to in a whole family of traits. Once we know structure is acceptable then we can move up to the next level. I think of selecting cattle like a pyramid. At the base is structural integrity. Once we have built that we can step up into other traits. I would say the next important thing would be skeletal design. The most important trait in skeletal design is rib shape. As with evaluating any phenotypic trait you have to take in several angles to get the full picture. To me the best place to evaluate rib shape is in front of, or behind cattle. I want to see rib shape come out of the top of the spine and have curvature like a 55-gallon drum. I can then evaluate true depth as I follow that drum down. Shallower cattle will end that true rib shape earlier. Correct ribbed cattle tend to do very well on forages as well as in the feedlot. Another angle for capacity is front chest width. A word of caution here though, lots of feed can “create” chest width. In order to look at true chest width it is important to watch them walk towards you. If they stand wide chested and then walk straight and true then they are most likely very capacious cattle. If they swing their legs out and are wide chested this could mean they have a structural flaw in their shoulder design. There is a BIG difference in the economic potential of these two situations.
On the profile we want balanced cattle. The simple way to see this is to draw a circle in your mind from the front should forward, around the hip, and then a third circle around their center. These three circles should be similar in size. This is what we call balance. The great American Bison is the opposite of this, the largest circle is up front, thus they are not as visually appealing- unless of course you’re trying to raise Bison themselves. Also, the location of where the neck comes out of the shoulder is crucial. It needs to be attached high on the shoulder, above what is called the “point” of the shoulder. This directly relates to stride length and overall locomotion. This is also a great time to make sure they are not “pinched” in their fore rib. The simplest explanation of pinched cattle is they look as if someone tied a rope behind their shoulder and sucked it down tight. Moving backwards on the animal we want them to be adequately deep, especially in the flank. And finally, we want them to be long and level hipped. This will allow for heavier carcass weights as well as balanced movement. It’s preferable they drop slightly at their pins. This insures better movement and easier calving in females. From the rearview we evaluate pin width. This allows for more pelvic area and capacity for production.
As you can tell, when truly challenged to evaluate cattle there is a lot to look at. Trying to explain it makes me imagine somebody running circles around the animal in order to see everything described! Not to worry though, with practice all these traits can be evaluated rather quickly and easily. I have gotten through two tiers of the pyramid. The next tier involves several different traits, keep an eye out for it, coming soon! As always you can give me a call at 402.310.5056 or shoot me an email at email@example.com.