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What Do Judges Look at When Looking at a Cow?

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It's not exactly a beauty competition, but it is about appearance. Cow judging is based on certain physical characteristics that make a cow a valuable addition to a farm, ranch or dairy. Cows are judged both against each other and a written standard that defines the ideal traits for a dairy cow.


Dairy cow judging centers around milk production. A cow is judged by her ability to continuously produce large amounts of milk and to easily bear offspring that will also produce milk. Since it's impractical during a judging competition to wait and see which cow has the best production, physical characteristics that indicate a healthy high-production cow are used as the criteria. These traits are common among all breeds of dairy cows, although each cow is also compared against the standard for its breed.


The udder is the single physical characteristic given the most weight during judging. It makes up 40 percent of the total possible score. Judges look for a deep, wide udder with balanced proportions and teats that are equal in size. They also check the cleft and attachment points or ligaments to make sure they are capable of bearing the weight of the milk. In judging an udder, the main consideration is milk production capacity, not only at the cow's present age, but throughout her life. In short, judges look for a large, strong, healthy udder that can produce as much milk as possible.


A cow with good conformation is healthier and will have a longer productive life than a cow with structural defects. Although the exact proportions vary with each breed of cow, judges are looking for an animal with a deep, barrel-shaped body, broad chest, straight legs, hooves that grow at the proper angle and a well-proportioned appearance. The cow should also be in good condition, without excess flesh or fat, and have features that blend smoothly together rather than sharp, bony angles.

Score Card

The "Dairy Cow Unified Score Card" is the standard system used for judging dairy cows. It breaks down each part of the cow to be judged, assigns points to each section and spells out the ideal dairy cow characteristics. The card allows judges to observe and rate each cow individually and then tally up the points to determine placement. It also provides a uniform method of judging across several different breeds, classes and different competitions throughout the United States. The card breaks the parts of the cow to be judged into five different components, including the frame, which is worth 15 percent of the total score; dairy character, for 20 percent of the score; body capacity, 10 percent; feet and legs, 15 percent; and udder, 40 percent.