The Milk-mirror

The discovery of M. Guenon, of Bordeaux, in France--a man of remarkable

practical sagacity, and a close observer of stock--consisted in the

connection between the milking qualities of the cow and certain external

marks on the udder, and on the space above it, called the perineum,

extending to the buttocks. To these marks he gave the name of

milk-mirror, or escutcheon, which consists in certain perceptible spots

rising up from the udder in different directions, forms and sizes, on

which the hair grows upward, whilst the hair on other parts of the body

grows downward. The reduction of these marks into a system, explaining

the value of particular forms and sizes of the milk-mirror, belongs

exclusively to Guenon.

He divided the milk-mirror into eight classes, and each class into eight

orders, making in all no less than sixty-four divisions, which he

afterward increased by subdivisions, thus rendering the whole system

complicated in the extreme, especially as he professed to be able to

judge with accuracy, by means of the milk-mirror, not only of the exact

quantity a cow would give, but also of the quality of the milk, and of

the length of time it would continue. He endeavored to prove too much,

and was, as a matter of consequence, frequently at fault himself.

Despite the strictures which have been passed upon Guenon's method of

judging of cows, the best breeders and judges of stock concur in the

opinion, as the result of their observations, that cows with the most

perfectly developed milk-mirrors are, with rare exception, the best

milkers of their breed; and that cows with small and slightly developed

milk-mirrors are, in the majority of cases, bad milkers. There are,

undoubtedly, cows with very small mirrors, which are, nevertheless,

very fair in the yield of milk; and among those with middling quality of

mirrors, instances of rather more than ordinary milkers often occur,

while at the same time it is true that cases now and then are found

where the very best marked and developed mirrors are found on very poor

milkers. These apparent exceptions, however, are to be explained, in the

large majority of cases, by causes outside of those which affect the

appearance of the milk-mirror. It is, of course, impossible to estimate

with mathematical accuracy either the quantity, quality, or duration of

the milk, since it is affected by so many chance circumstances, which

cannot always be known or estimated by even the most skillful judges;

such, for example, as the food, the treatment, the temperament,

accidental diseases, inflammation of the udder, premature calving, the

climate and season, the manner in which she has been milked, and a

thousand other things which interrupt or influence the flow of milk,

without materially changing the size or shape of the milk-mirror. It

has, indeed, been very justly observed that we often see cows equally

well formed, with precisely the same milk-mirror, and kept in the same

circumstances, yet giving neither equal quantities nor similar qualities

of milk. Nor could it be otherwise; since the action of the organs

depends, not merely on their size and form, but, to a great extent, on

the general condition of each individual.

The different forms of milk-mirrors are represented by the shaded parts

of cuts, lettered A, B, C, D; but it is necessary to premise that upon

the cows themselves they are always partly concealed by the thighs, the

udder, and the folds of the skin, which are not shown, and therefore

they are not always so uniform in nature as they appear in the cuts.

Their size varies as the skin is more or less folded or stretched; while

the cuts represent the skin as uniform or free from folds, but not

stretched out. It is usually very easy to distinguish the milk-mirrors

by the upward direction of the hair which forms them. They are sometimes

marked by a line of bristly hair growing in the opposite direction,

which surrounds them, forming a sort of outline by the upward and

downward growing hair. Yet, when the hair is very fine and short, mixed

with longer hairs, and the skin much folded, and the udder voluminous

and pressed by the thighs, it is necessary, in order to distinguish the

part enclosed between the udder and the legs, and examine the full size

of the mirrors, to observe them attentively, and to place the legs wide

apart, and to smooth out the skin, in order to avoid the folds.

The mirrors may also be observed by holding the back of the hand against

the perineum, and drawing it from above downward, when the nails rubbing

against the up-growing hair, make the parts covered by it very


As the hair of the milk-mirror has not the same direction as the hair

which surrounds it, it may often be distinguished by a difference in the

shade reflected by it. It is then sufficient to place it properly to the

light in order to see the difference in shade, and to make out the part

covered by the upward-growing hair. Most frequently, however, the hair

of the milk-mirror is thin and fine, and the color of the skin can

easily be seen. If the eye alone is trusted, we shall often be deceived.

In some countries cattle-dealers shave the back part of the cow. Just

after this operation the mirrors can neither be seen nor felt; but this

inconvenience ceases in a few days. It may be added that the

shaving--designed, as the dealers say, to beautify the cow--is generally

intended simply to destroy the milk-mirror, and to deprive buyers of one

means of judging of the milking qualities of the cows. It is unnecessary

to add that the cows most carefully shaven are those which are badly

marked, and that it is prudent to take it for granted that cows so shorn

are bad milkers.

Milk-mirrors vary in position, extent, and the figure which they

represent. They may be divided according to their position, into mirrors

or escutcheons, properly so called, or into lower and upper tufts, or

escutcheons. The latter are very small in comparison with the former,

and are situated in close proximity to the vulva, as seen at 1, in cut

E. They are very common on cows of bad milking races, but are very

rarely seen on the best milch cows. They consist of one or two ovals, or

small bands of up-growing hair, and serve to indicate the continuance of

the flow of milk. The period is short, in proportion as the tufts are

large. They must not be confounded with the escutcheon proper, which is

often extended up to the vulva. They are separated from it by bands of

hair, more or less large, as in cut marked F.

Milk-mirrors are sometimes symmetrical, and sometimes without symmetry.

When there is a great difference in the extent of the two halves, it

almost always happens that the teats on the side where the mirror is

best developed give more milk than those of the opposite side. The left

half of the mirror, it may be remarked, is almost always the largest;

and so, when the perinean part is folded into a square, it is on this

side of the body that it unfolds. Of three thousand cows in Denmark,

but a single one was found, whose escutcheon varied even a little from

this rule.

The mirrors having a value in proportion to the space which they occupy,

it is of great importance to attend to all the rows of down-growing

hairs, which diminish the extent of surface, whether these tufts are in

the midst of the mirror, or form indentations on its edges.

These indentations, concealed in part by the folds of the skin, are

sometimes seen with difficulty; but it is important to take them into

account, since in a great many cows they materially lessen the size of

the mirror. Cows are often found, whose milk-mirrors at first sight

appear very large, but which are only medium milkers; and it will

usually be found that lateral indentations greatly diminish the surface

of up-growing hair. Many errors are committed in estimating the value of

such cows, from a want of attention to the real extent of the mirror.

All the interruptions in the surface of the mirror indicate a diminution

in the quantity of the milk, with the exception, however, of small oval

or elliptical plates which are found in the mirror, on the back part of

the udders of the best cows, as represented in the cut already given,

marked A. These ovals have a peculiar tint, which is occasioned by the

downward direction of the hair which forms them. In the best cows these

ovals exist with the lower mirrors very well developed, as represented

in the cut just named.

In short, it should be stated that, in order to determine the extent and

significance of a mirror, it is necessary to consider the state of the

perineum as to fat, and that of the fullness of the udder. In a fat cow,

with an inflated udder, the mirror would appear larger than it really

is; whilst in a lean cow, with a loose and wrinkled udder, it appears

smaller. Fat will cover faults--a fact to be borne in mind when

selecting a cow.

In bulls, the mirrors present the same peculiarities as in cows; but

they are less varied in their form, and especially much less in size.

In calves, the mirrors show the shapes which they are afterwards to

have, only they are more contracted, because the parts which they cover

are but slightly developed. They are easily seen after birth; but the

hair which then covers them is long, coarse, and stiff; and when this

hair falls off, the calf's mirror will resemble that of the cow, but

will be of less size.

With calves, however, it should be stated, in addition, that the

milk-mirrors are more distinctly recognized on those from cows that are

well kept, and that they will generally be fully developed at two years

old. Some changes take place in the course of years, but the outlines of

the mirror appear prominent at the time of advanced pregnancy, or, in

the case of cows giving milk, at the times when the udder is more

distended with milk than at others.

M. Mayne, who has explained and simplified the method of M. Guenon,

divides cows, according to the quantity which they give, into four

classes: first, the very good; second, the good; third, the medium; and

fourth, the bad.

In the FIRST class he places cows, both parts of whose milk mirror, the

mammary--the tuft situated on the udder, the legs and the thighs--and

the perinean--that on the perineum, extending sometimes more or less out

upon the thighs--are large, continuous, and uniform, covering at least

a great part of the perineum, the udder, the inner surface of the

thighs, and extending more or less out upon the legs, as in cut A, with

no interruptions, or, if any, small ones, oval in form, and situated on

the posterior face of the udder.

Such mirrors are found on most very good cows, but may also be found on

cows which can scarcely be called good, and which should be ranked in

the next class. But cows, whether having very well developed mirrors or

not, may be reckoned as very good, and as giving as much milk as is to

be expected from their size, food, and the hygienic circumstances in

which they are kept, if they present the following characteristics:

veins of the perineum large, as if swollen, and visible on the

exterior--as in cut A--or which can easily be made to appear by pressing

upon the base of the perineum; veins of the udder large and knotted;

milk-veins large, often double, equal on both sides, and forming

zig-zags, under the belly.

To the signs furnished by the veins and by the mirror, may be added also

the following marks: a uniform, very large, and yielding udder,

shrinking much in milking, and covered with soft skin and fine hair;

good constitution, full chest, regular appetite, and great propensity to

drink. Such cows rather incline to be poor than to be fat. The skin is

soft and yielding; short, fine hair; small head; fine horns; bright,

sparkling eye; mild expression; feminine look; with a fine neck.

Cows of this first class are very rare. They give, even when small in

size, from ten to fourteen quarts of milk a day; and the largest sized

from eighteen to twenty-six quarts a day, and even more. Just after

calving, if arrived at maturity and fed with good, wholesome, moist food

in sufficient quantity and quality, adapted to promote the secretion of

milk, they can give about a pint of milk for every ten ounces of hay, or

its equivalent, which they eat.

They continue in milk for a long period. The best never go dry, and may

be milked even up to the time of calving, giving from eight to ten

quarts of milk a day. But even the best cows often fall short of the

quantity of milk which they are able to give, from being fed on food

which is too dry, or not sufficiently varied, or not rich enough in

nutritive qualities, or deficient in quantity.

The SECOND class is that of good cows; and to this belong the best

commonly found in the market and among the cow-feeders of cities.

They have the mammary part of the milk-mirror well developed, but the

perinean part contracted, or wholly wanting, as in cut G; or both parts

of the mirror are moderately developed, or slightly indented, as in cut

H. Cut E belongs also to this class, in the lower part; but it indicates

a cow, which--as the upper mirror, 1, indicates--dries up sooner when

again in calf.

These marks, though often seen in many good cows, should be considered

as certain only when the veins of the perineum form, under the skin, a

kind of network, which, without being very apparent, may be felt by a

pressure on them; when the milk-veins on the belly are well-developed,

though less knotty and less prominent than in cows of the first class;

in short, when the udder is well developed, and presents veins which are

sufficiently numerous, though not very large.

It is necessary here, as in the preceding class, to distrust cows in

which the mirror is not accompanied by large veins. This remark applies

especially to cows which have had several calves, and are in full milk.

They are medium or bad, let the milk-mirror be what it may, if the veins

of the belly are not large, and those of the udder apparent.

The general characteristics which depend on form and constitution

combine, less than in cows of the preceding class, the marks of good

health and excellent constitution with those of a gentle and feminine


Small cows of this class give from seven to ten or eleven quarts of milk

a day, and the largest from thirteen to seventeen quarts. They can be

made to give three-fourths of a pint of milk, just after calving, for

every ten ounces of hay consumed, if well cared for, and fed in a manner

favorable to the secretion of milk.

They hold out long in milk, when they have no upper mirrors or tufts. At

seven or eight months in calf, they may give from five to eight quarts

of milk a day.

The THIRD class consists of middling cows. When the milk-mirror

really presents only the mammary or lower part slightly indicated or

developed, and the perinean part contracted, narrow, and irregular--as

in cut K--the cows are middling. The udder is slightly developed or

hard, and shrinks very little after milking. The veins of the perineum

are not apparent, and those which run along the lower side of the

abdomen are small, straight, and sometimes unequal. In this case the

mirror is not symmetrical, and the cow gives more milk on the side where

the vein is the largest.

These cows have large heads, and a thick, hard skin. Being ordinarily in

good condition, they are beautiful to look at, and seem to be well

formed. Many of them are nervous and restive, and not easily approached.

Cows of this class give, according to size, from three or four to ten

quarts of milk. They very rarely give, even in the most favorable

circumstances, half a pint of milk for every ten ounces of hay which

they consume. The milk diminishes rapidly, and dries up wholly the

fourth or fifth month in calf.

The FOURTH class is composed of bad cows. As they are commonly in

good condition, these cows are often the most beautiful of the herd and

in the markets. They have fleshy thighs, thick and hard skin, a large

and coarse neck and head, and horns large at the base.

The udder is hard, small and fleshy, with a skin covered with long,

rough hair. No veins are to be seen either on the perineum or the udder,

while those of the belly are slightly developed, and the mirrors are

ordinarily small, as in cut L.

With these characteristics, cows give only a few quarts of milk a day,

and dry up in a short time after calving. Some of them can scarcely

nourish their calves, even when they are properly cared for and well


Sickly habits, chronic affections of the digestive organs, the chest,

the womb, and the lacteal system, sometimes greatly affect the milk

secretion, and cause cows troubled with them to fall from the first or

second to the third, and sometimes to the fourth class.

Without pushing this method of judging of the good milking qualities of

cows into the objectionable extreme to which it was carried by its

originator, it may be safely asserted that the milk-mirror forms an

important additional mark or point for distinguishing good milkers; and

it may be laid down as a rule that, in the selection of milch cows, as

well as in the choice of young animals for breeders, the milk-mirror

should, by all means, be examined and considered; but that we should not

limit or confine ourselves exclusively to it, and that other and

long-known marks should be equally regarded.

There are cases, however, where a knowledge and careful examination of

the form and size of the mirror become of the highest importance. It is

well known that certain signs or marks of great milkers are developed,

only as the capacities of the animal herself are fully and completely

developed by age. The milk-veins, for instance, are never so large and

prominent in heifers and young cows as in old ones, and the same may be

said of the udder, and of the veins of the udder and perineum; all of

which it is of great importance to observe in the selection of milch

cows. Those signs, then, which in cows arrived at maturity are almost

sufficient in themselves to warrant a conclusion as to their merits as

milkers, are, to a great extent, wanting in younger animals, and

altogether in calves, as to which there is often doubt whether they

shall be raised; and here a knowledge of the form of the mirror is of

immense advantage, since it gives, at the outset and before any expense

is incurred, a somewhat reliable means of judging of the future milking

capacities of the animal; or, if a male, of the probability of his

transmitting milking qualities to his offspring.

It will be seen, from an examination of the points of a good milch cow

that, though the same marks which indicate the greatest milking

qualities may not always indicate the greatest aptitude to fatten, yet

that the signs which denote good fattening qualities are included among

the signs favorable to the production of milk; such as soundness of

constitution, marked by good organs of digestion and respiration

fineness and mellowness of the skin and hair, quietness of

disposition--which inclines the animal to rest and lie down while

chewing the cud--and other marks which are relied on by graziers in

selecting animals to fatten.

In buying dairy stock the farmer generally finds it for his interest to

select young heifers, as they give the promise of longer usefulness. But

it is often the case that older cows are selected with the design of

using them for the dairy for a limited period, and then feeding them for

the butcher. In either case, it is advisable, as a rule, to choose

animals in low or medium condition. The farmer cannot commonly afford to

buy fat; it is more properly his business to make it, and to have it to

sell. Good and well-marked cows in poor condition will rapidly gain in

flesh and products when removed to better pastures and higher keeping,

and they cost less in the original purchase.

It is, perhaps, superfluous to add that regard should be had to the

quality of the pasturage and keeping which a cow has previously had, as

compared with that to which she is to be subjected. The size of the

animal should also be considered with reference to the fertility of the

pastures into which she is to be put. Small or medium-sized animals

accommodate themselves to ordinary pastures far better than large ones.

Where a very large cow will do well, two small ones will usually do

better; while the large animal might fail entirely where two small ones

would do well. It is better to have the whole herd, so far as may be,

uniform in size; for, if they vary greatly, some may get more than they

need, and others will not have enough. This, however, cannot always be

brought about.

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