Observing and Avoiding Defects in Brahman Cattle

May 30, 2022

By Keaton Dodd

When a customer comes to your ranch looking for seedstock, as a producer we have a responsibility to supply them with an animal that functions and performs the task expected of that individual depending on gender.

A breeding bull should have the ability to travel and cover open cows for multiple seasons of service, and as for a cow, she should be calving on a 365 day interval for many years and wean a calf half of her weight consistently.

In addition, as a genetic supplier we are expected to send our clients breeding stock free of defects.

This blog serves as an overview of possible “problems” you’ll want to keep an eye out for.

The following is a list of defects seen sometimes in Brahman and a brief description of them. 

Fertility / Breeding Defects

How to ranchers make money? By selling calves. It’s that simple. Fertility and reproductive soundness (along with calving interval) is one of the most important criteria in a profitable beef herd. Here are some serious “red flags” to look out for and avoid.

  • Hypoplasia in bulls- This means incomplete or undevelopment testicles. This results in reduced fertility in that bull and in his offspring. When selecting a bull, look for adequate sized testicles that are balanced in their shape and position. Make sure the bull has two testicles. Twisted testicles are also a breeding defect and negatively impact fertility.
  • Hypoplasia in females- Underdevelopment of one or both ovaries in the female. To find this, you would need an ultrasound to examine the ovaries.
  • Prolapse of the prepuce- This is also called a “lazy” prepuce, or where the bull’s prepuce hangs out below his sheath. This is seen a lot. The problem with this is it makes the bull more prone to injury or irritation, and reduces their reproductive capability.
  • Impotentia coeundi- You’re probably thinking what? In cowman’s terms, this is a lazy breeder. This is a bull that shows little or no interest in mounting a cow, or breeding a cow. This is a problem you have to really watch for. Here at BRC we are highly selective for bulls with high libido who know their job is to cover cows.
  • Poor sheath design- Bulls’ sheaths should be short, tight, and at the correct angle. The sheath should not just hand directly down. This is called a pendulous sheath. Longer and more pendulous sheath designs have commonly led to injury and reduced fertility.
  • Teat size- The teats need to be small enough that a baby calf can fit it’s mouth around the teat. Larger teats become difficult for calves to nurse, requiring intervention or death loss.
  • Udder attachment- Udders should be high and tight. A loose udder attachment, or a sloppy udder, makes it challenging for a calf to get underneath and suck. This is usually a contributing factor to dummy calf issues.

Mouth and Face Defects

Remember, the beef animal’s basic function is to turn grass into beef. To do so, they have to be able to eat, and graze at a high level of efficiency. Here are some common defects relating to the head, mouth and muzzle.

  • Crooked nose – The mouth and nuzzle should be in a straight line even with the center of the head. A crooked nose causes reduced respiratory function, and ultimately lower foraging ability.
  • Undershot jaw / Monkey mouth. This is when the lower jaw is abnormally undershot. This causes the same problems as a crooked nose.
  • Overshot jaw / Parrot mouth. This is the opposite of a monkey mouth, so, where the top law sticks out too much.

Other Issues

  • Umbilical rupture- Navel hernia. This is visually identified by a swelling or odd-shaped underline.
  • Asymmetrical hoof growth, or in cattlemen’s terms: rolling feet. This messes up the structural soundness, making it harder for the animal to move freely and impacts longevity.

Color Issues

Similar to the standards of the international Brahman community, we believe grey Brahmans should be a solid grey, and red Brahmans should be a deep cherry red. They must have a black nose. We are not proponents of the lighter colored “orange” or “pink” Brahmans. We have a small tolerance for red tinge or dark pigmented Brahman but again, our goal is similar to ranches like JD Hudgins or Heritage Cattle, and leading ranches around the world – that we have a solid grey color.

  • Pigment is important for prevention of skin cancer issues, and the ABBA has color requirements that make certain patterns a disqualification for registration. Make sure to look into ABBA guidelines regarding color.

How can we improve?

First, you have to understand what is a deal breaker vs. a tolerable flaw?

Every rancher, no matter how big, how successful, or how many banners their cattle have won are going to have a problem from time to time. The question is – how does that breeder handle it. Do they fix the problem? Or do they try to gaslight others about the problem or deny it?

Step one we see is to remove any animals with a major defect from the breeding population.

But, you may be asking “what is a deal breaker?” Because sadly in the Brahman breed there are Houston Grand Champions with some of the defects listed above. So, where do you draw the line?

For example, maybe a cow is slightly larger in her teat size than ideal, but still a functional calf raiser. Do you keep her or cull her? As long as she can raise a functional calf on her own, we allow her to stay in the herd.

Here are the deal breakers for BRC:

  • Zero tolerance for hernias.
  • Zero tolerance for crooked noses.
  • Zero tolerance for excessively long sheaths.
  • Zero tolerance for bad feed.
  • Zero tolerance for pigment issues. Our goal is to be working towards a solid grey, uniform color with pigment as in Dutton or 805 or Sweetie.
  • Zero tolerance for small testicles / testicle problems.
  • Zero tolerance for lazy breeders / non-breeder bulls.

Animals with any of these programs go into our F-1 program, or if the problem is bad enough, goes into our beef program.

Concerns addressed on a case by case basis:

  • Lazy prepuces – This is one we address on a case by case basis. Many polled cattle have this problem. If a bull is able to cover his cows without injury, we keep a watchful eye on this issue.
  • Sheath design – This is currently a major issue of the breed in some bloodlines, and we are keeping a very watchful eye on this. Ideally we are looking for bulls like Dutton, 259 with super tight sheaths.
  • Teat size- We are very watchful of this, but, if the calf can nurse on it’s own, we allow the cow to stay in the purebred program. However, we would not market any sons of this type of cow as a seedstock bull or an AI sires.
  • Udder attachment- We keep a close eye on this, similar to the teat size.
  • Monkey mouth or parrot mouth – Address on a case by case basis.

By using the guidelines set in place by the Beef Improvement Federation, we can document that individuals udder score and where it compares to average. We can then breed that particular cow to a bull who is backed by cow families that are documented for their udder quality, and hopefully over time improve the udder quality in future generations. 

We want ranching to be enjoyable for our customers and strive to make purchasing a BRC animal an easy, stress free experience. For more information on our program or how to purchase BRC genetics contact us at 979-532-9141 or office@brcutrer.com, or visit brcutrer.com.

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