Development of a feet and leg scoring method and selection tool for improved soundness in Red Angus cattle



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Kansas State University


Feet and leg soundness is an important trait for beef producers as it has an impact on cow longevity and animal well-being. The objective of this study was to investigate genetic parameter estimates for feet and leg traits, understand the relationship between feet and leg traits and Stayability EPD, and develop a scoring method for feet and leg traits in Red Angus cattle. Cattle were scored on 14 subjective traits: Body Condition Score (BCS), Front Hoof Angle (FA), Front Heel Depth (FHD), Front Hoof Claw Shape (FC), Rear Hoof Angle (RA), Rear Heel Depth (RHD), Rear Hoof Claw Shape (RC), Foot Size (FS), Hoof Orientation (HO), Knee Orientation (KO), Front Side View (FSV), Rear Leg Side View (RS), Rear Leg Hind View (RH), Composite Score (CS). Red Angus cattle (n=1885) were scored for all 14 traits by trained evaluators. All traits except CS were scored with the assumed optimum level being in the middle with undesirable scores being located on the extremes. Scores were observed on a scale of 1-100 and analyzed, then scores were simplified to 1-9 where scores were collapsed by 10’s into bins, starting at 10 since there were no scores observed below that point and the rubric used did not have an associated phenotype below that point. A three-generation pedigree file was obtained from the Red Angus Association of America (RAAA) that contained 13,306 animals, as well as a performance file on all animals observed in the study. Data were modeled using multiple linear bivariate animal models with additive and residual random effects, and age and contemporary group (herd-year) as fixed effects. Genetic parameters were estimated with ASREML4.0. Heritability estimates on the 1-9 scale for BCS, FA, FHD, FC, RA, RHD, RC, FS, HO, KO, FSV, RS, RH, and CS were 0.13, 0.18, 0.12, 0.08, 0.17, 0.24, 0.15, 0.29, 0.15, 0.15, 0.11, 0.29, 0.11, and 0.09 respectively. In general, feet and leg traits were lowly to moderately heritable, and are similar when compared to estimates for the same traits scored on a 1-100 scale. This informs a less granular and more simplified scale of measurement can be an appropriate method of feet and leg trait classification. Front hoof angle, FHD, RA, and RHD were all highly genetically correlated (r = 0.83 - 0.97), suggesting that angle and heel depth are controlled by many of the same genes. Front claw shape and RC were highly genetically correlated (r = 0.80) with each other but were not as significantly correlated with FA, FHD, RA, RHD (r = -0.43 to 0.38). This suggests that hoof angle/depth should be measured separately from claw shape. Rear leg side view, and RH had a strong correlation (r = 0.69). Strong correlations between FSV, HO, and KO also existed, yet there was noticeable variation among point estimates and standard error. Six traits on the 1-9 scale were selected to generate estimated breeding values (EBV’s) based on their heritability and correlation with other traits; BCS RHD, RC, FS, RSV, RH. A linear model was used to determine breeding values for BCS, RHD, RC, FS, FSV and RH. Those breeding values were regressed on Stayability EPD. When fixed effects of herd, age and year born were accounted for, RC (P < 0.0001), RSV (P = 0.0517), and FS (P = 0.086) had relationships as predictor variables for Stayability EPD. The use of feet and leg traits as predictor variables for improved Stayability EPD can be achieved with a simplified scoring system (1-9 vs. 1-100) in Red Angus cattle. By narrowing the number of traits needed to measure with a more simplified scoring method should allow for more rapid adoption among current beef cattle producers. A greater number of observations could be useful to validate these results and provide more accurate point estimates for feet and leg trait heritabilities and correlations.



Beef cattle, Genetics, Soundness, Longevity

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Master of Science


Department of Animal Sciences and Industry

Major Professor

Robert L. Weaber