Aging cattle by their teeth
- You may need to determine a cow’s age and like sheep; this can be done by the age at which their permanent teeth erupt. Cattle are big, so this can be a hazardous exercise.
- Never attempt to look in a cattle beast’s mouth unless you have its head firmly held in a good solid headbail. Moving heads are dangerous missiles.
- Even then, you’ll need a fair bit of brute strength. Stand on the right side of the beast’s head with your back against the headbail and your feet (wearing good safety boots) firmly planted.
- Put your left arm around the beast’s muzzle and pull it over towards you.
- Use your left thumb to pull down the beast’s lower lip to expose the teeth, making sure your finger doesn’t catch the edge of the teeth as they are very sharp and may make a nice cut.
- You can’t see a beast’s front teeth with its head down so heave the cow’s head up to make inspection easier. She won’t like this much.
- The best idea is to get someone else to do all the physical holding and you just pull the lip down and inspect the teeth from the front.
- The beast won’t put up with this indignity for long so make it short and sharp.
- If you have strong fingers you can insert a couple of fingers in one nostril and your thumb in the other to hold the beast and then pull its head up. You have to nip fairly hard to hang on as the mucous from the nostrils makes things rather slippery. The beast does not like this either.
- You can also use nose grip pliers with a short rope attached to do this. No beast likes this so expect a battle with the risk that it’s shaking head may hit you – and it’s hard!
This is what the text book says about the age of teeth eruption although in practice there is enormous variation around these ages:
- A calf is born with 8 temporary milk incisors in the bottom jaw. These teeth grow in size and last until the animal is yearling, as in the teeth below.
- At 22-34 months – 2 permanent incisors erupt.
- At 27-40 months – 4 permanent incisors erupt.
- At 33-42 months – 6 permanent incisors erupt.
- At 40+months – 8 permanent incisors (full mouth).
- Above this you can’t tell.
Nobody buying cattle ever looks in their mouths like sheep farmer do – for obvious reasons. If they did they’d get some surprises as some of the defects you find make it very difficult for a beast to harvest grass efficiently and some defects must even be painful:
- Some old cows have worn all their teeth right off by the gum. Biting herbage contaminated by coarse soil like pumice makes teeth wear worse.
- Some cows will have 2 or 4 middle teeth permanently missing.
- Some will have grass packed in the enlarged gaps between teeth making them sore, wearing them away and loosening them.
- Where teeth are changing the beast may have both the old and new tooth still present in the same cavity and the gum looking very red and sore.
- Some undershot teeth will have made big depressions in the top dental pad.
- Some teeth are overshot and miss the dental pad making biting difficult or impossible.
- There is a toothless gap in a cow’s mouth just behind where the front teeth end and before the back teeth (molars) start.
- You can safely feel for this gap and insert your fingers. Then with an upward action pull the cow’s head up and open her mouth. You can grab a bit of her lip too when you get experienced and that encourages her to open her mouth.
- This is the technique used to open a cow’s mouth when drenching or if you don’t open her mouth, it’s the spot you insert the spout of the drench gun.
- But don’t try this until some experienced person has shown you the spot and you’ve had a bit of practice, because if your fingers slip back into the back molars and the cow’s mouth closes, your fingers will be guillotined off- and you won’t find them to take to the hospital A&E department as they’ll be in the cow’s rumen and will be few days before they come through!
Disclaimer This material is provided in good faith for information purposes only, and the author does not accept any liability to any person for actions taken as a result of the information or advice (or the use of such information or advice) provided in these pages.