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  • JMC

Give me A Wide Muzzle or You're Gone!

Updated: Nov 8, 2020

As we continue to refine and examine our breeding, identifying characteristics and traits to emphasize, improve upon, and emphasize in the selection, culling, and breeding of our herd we find there are some traits that consistently accompany other positives traits. In fact, to some degree, they can serve as proxies.

One such trait that we will cull on with extreme prejudice is muzzle width. Give me a wide, broad muzzle on the end of a wide broad face and I'll show you a pretty darn good cow most of the time.

"The head should be short and broad, tapering gracefully towards a broad muzzle. The jaw should be wide enough to accommodate well-placed teeth with an even bite."

ADCA Linear Classification Breed Description

A broad, wide muzzle with large, flaring nostrils is not in the breed description and assessment guidelines just because it looks nice or there based on someone's whim way back when. That we seek broad muzzles on a broad head is there because cows of such a description simply define what is meant when we say "form following function."

Consider, what is the primary function of this bovine we have wandering around our pastures? Their sole biological function is to consume massive quantities of bulk forage to sustain themselves, reproduce, and nourish their offspring - that they do this while fulfilling our human needs is neither here nor there to the bovine. As those of us that raise dual-purpose cattle know: Nobody takes care of themselves quite like the dual-purpose cow. To adapt a phrase "If Momma cow at full and plump - ain't no one satisfied."

So to the point: We have 800 pound plus high grade leather fermentation vats walking around in our pastures eating grass and legumes. What is going to feed that belly most effectively AND efficiently - a narrow, pointed muzzle with a little mouth attached or a wide muzzle with a similarly attached mouth? Well of course the wide mouth is going to fill that fermentation vat more efficiently. Cows devote only so much time a day to actual grazing (median 8.5 hours per) as they must do a few other things such as chew the cud for all that forage, sleep, and rest that jaw muscle.

An Australian researcher suggested in the 1960’s that the maximum number of bites a Jersey cow could take per day was 36,000 – a cow grazing at 60 bites/minute for 510 minutes would take 30,600 bites in a day. Pasture bite sizes for European dairy cows vary from 0.022 to 0.007 oz DM/bite, and probably average 0.012 oz DM/bite over a grazing season. Variation in bite size is the most important factor determining how much pasture a cow can eat per day.

So, I want cows, even Dexter cows, to take as wide a swath of forage each time they take a bite as possible and fill that bubbling cauldron they haul around in their midsection as quickly as possible and start turning that green stuff into muscle, milk, fat, and a modicum of happy cow down time in the limited number of bites and time they have per day to do so.

In addition to the biological necessities just discussed. wide muzzles on broad headed cows go hand in hand with wide, deep, sprung, easy-keeping cattle. That is the proxy I mentioned earlier. It is one of the very first things I look at when evaluating an animal. We need to start looking at muzzles more and recognize that even though our breed is small overall - they still should have very wide, broad muzzles.

So start taking a look at those muzzles from the get go, not at what color they are but how wide that snozola is! You can see a wide versus a narrow muzzled animal from very early in calves. Nostrils are as important as a cow fermenting that much dry matter needs a lot of oxygen to feed the fire.


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