Linear classification: have you signed up yet?

Beef Shorthorn Cattle Society breed development chairman, Carey Coombs asks.


Linear classification is designed to identify Beef Shorthorn females that are structurally sound and functionally fit for purpose. Last year over 1,000 animals were assessed.

We believe that the scheme has great potential to improve the national Beef Shorthorn herd and help it to firmly maintain its position as the leading functional suckler cow breed. If you have yet to sign up, then we would like to encourage you to take the opportunity to have you herd classified.

Linear classification is free of charge for all first calved heifers, and all animals at their first and post third calf classification.

What’s involved?

Linear classification is delivered by independent professional classifiers to a defined standard that was developed by the Society over the course of several workshops, and with a number of herds. It comprises two parts:

  • A 14-trait linear classification covering stature, chest width, body depth, length from the withers to pelvis, rump angle, rump width, hindquarter development, hind legs - rear and side angle, claw set, foot angle, udder attachment, and teat depth and length.

  • Composite classification incorporating the 14 individual scores in to four categories: body confirmation, beef characters, legs and feet, and mammary. These scores have a percentage weighting and are combined to give a final score. Which is divided in to grade from Excellent to Poor.

On farm

The classifier will inspect all heifers after calving and whilst in full milk. If this is the first visit, then you can have all your older cows classified at the same time, provided they are in milk.

All inspections must be made on hard level ground. It’s useful to have a wall or post to mark the animal’s height as she walks past. An enclosed yard would be appropriate to enable the animals to walk quietly.

Information is input in to the classifier’s handheld reader. Each animal’s score is available immediately after the classification is complete. Prior to leaving the farm, breeders are handed a printed report and the classifier introduces the animal’s score to her pedigree certificate, signs and stamps it.

Finally, the scores are uploaded from the classifier’s handheld reader to the Breedplan database to appear as a suffix to the animal’s name.

A few pointers

  • We recommend herds to have at least one visit per year to cover all first calved animals; a second visit may be required if the herd is both spring and autumn calving

  • It’s not desirable to have the entire herd classified at every visit

  • An animal cannot be classified Excellent until after her third calf

  • An animal can be reclassified at subsequent visits and scores can only increase; they cannot go down

  • Any animals unwell or lame on the day of visit are best left for a subsequent visit, however they should be presented to the classifier who will advise on how to progress

What the breeders say

David Dickie, Knockenjig herd

David Dickie, Knockenjig herd

“Having been involved in linear classifying dairy cattle for over 30 years and seen the results, I was keen to start classifying my Beef Shorthorns when the scheme started. I found that the benefits build up over the generations as the better cow families become more obvious and also breed more reliably which I saw in my dairy herd and am now starting to see in my Beef Shorthorn herd. Linear classification is however only another tool to use in your breeding programme along with EBVs and of course your own visual assessment to help breed the type of animal you want for your own farm.”

David Dickie
Knockenjig herd; Sanquhar, Lanarkshire

Vivien St Joseph, Tollesbury herd

Vivien St Joseph, Tollesbury herd

"'Why invite someone to criticise my cows?’; ‘I know what I like’; ‘I’m not culling cows just because someone gives them a low score’. These are all potentially valid objections to classifying, however I found the scores given to my cows tallied pretty well with my assessment of them. What I gained from the process of discussing the scores with the assessor was a detailed understanding of why I liked or disliked an individual animal and what were the subtle stronger or weaker points of confirmation that I can build on or reject. As a young herd, I found classification extremely helpful. Do it – you’ll learn more than you think!”

Vivien St Joseph
Tollesbury herd; Colchester, Essex

Steve Johnson, Gilven herd

Steve Johnson, Gilven herd

“Linear classification is allowing us to demonstrate to our buyers of both males and females that the stock they are interested in are from consistently well bred and structurally sound cow families. We already have several families that have proved over the years that they will produce EX or VG females from the dam though to great granddam. Linear classification is another marvellous breeding tool to add confidence to the sale of stock, for both you and your purchasers."

Steve Johnson, Gilven herd; Huby, North Yorkshire