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Pelvic Scoring for Productivity

Excluding heifers with smaller pelvic sizes prior to breeding can help avoid traumatic deliveries, increased vet costs and, in severe cases, cow and/or calf mortality as well as the often-hidden interruption to cow fertility, ultimately improving the productivity and profitability of beef farms.

Difficult calvings bring layers of economic loss for beef farmers and genetics play an important part in calving ease. Pelvic size in cattle is a highly heritable trait and selecting heifers that have a larger pelvic area can rapidly reduce calving problems and the associated costs by £6.50 per head.

While most farmers would expect the biggest, heaviest heifers to have the largest pelvic areas, these animals can in fact have smaller pelvises compared to smaller heifers in the herd.

“You could have the biggest heifer with the smallest pelvis, or, you could have the smallest heifer with the biggest pelvis,” says Cattle Breeding Specialist Steven Rolfe.

Pelvic measuring is a simple process which can be carried out using pelvic scoring callipers or by a manual rectal inspection of the heifer to determine the shape, size and any abnormalities in the pelvis.

Steven adds: “I carry out pelvic measuring by a manual rectal inspection. I use the ultrasound scanner to check the ovaries and uterine track at the same time.

“A good pelvis will have a symmetrical hole, slightly smaller than a football, which allows for the foetus to move through the pelvic wall with minimal issues.”

By carrying out the process, which costs approximately £3.50 per animal, farmers could save up to £6.50 per head by eliminating the likelihood of a forced caesarean, highlights Robert Ramsay, Beef and Sheep Specialist at SAC Consulting, who has been carrying out trial work on the cost benefits to introducing pelvic measuring.

“Pelvic measuring is just one tool in the toolbox which can help improve calving ease. By using the tool and considering other factors such as the genetic merits of the heifer’s mother, heifer body condition, nutrition, stockmanship, age and genetics, farmers can improve the overall breeding practices on-farm,” says Robert.

In the last three years there has been a large increase in the number of farmers pelvic scoring heifers as part of their selection of breeding replacements, including recent host Monitor Farmers, Iain Green and daughter Laura Beattie who farm Corskie near Garmouth in Morayshire.

“Initially we pelvic measured a batch of commercial heifers as a trial during the Monitor Farm Programme to see if there was any correlation in pelvic size and ease of calving,” says Iain, who has now made pelvic scoring in heifer replacements a regular management tool at Corskie.

During the trial 31 heifers were pelvic measured by vet Mark Pearson from Moray Coast Vet Group, approximately two months before bulling, at 15-18 months of age, and then put to same bull. The measurements were noted, and no heifers were removed from the batch based on their pelvic measurements.

Iain adds: “Most of the heifers were selected due, in part, to their reasonably large pelvic measurements, and, most of them, did very well at calving with only five of the 31 needing any assistance.

“However, there was one heifer in the mix with a particularly small pelvis who I left in because she just looked such a cracker, and unfortunately she was one of just two heifers who needed a caesarean. Her calf was a good size but not that large, the other caesarean heifer had a very large calf.”

The trial proved successful at Corskie and has led to Iain and Laura now carrying out pelvic measuring on all the heifers selected as potential replacements.

Laura adds: “After carrying out the trial, we have found pelvic scoring to be a useful tool to eliminate heifers which are more likely to have problem calving.

 “We now remove all heifers with small pelvic measurements from those initially selected for breeding and, instead, they are finished to slaughter on-farm. We hope that this will help decrease the number of difficult calving within the herd and amongst the first-time calvers.”

For more information listen to Series 2, Episode 3 of the QMS podcast - Pelvic scoring improving efficiency of suckler cow systems.  The podcast series is available through Apple

Podcast. Buzzsprout, and Spotify, as well as via the Quality Meat Scotland website.