Vet Column 6-14-10 | TheFencePost.com

Vet Column 6-14-10

David L. Morris, DVM, Ph.D.
Fort Collins, Colo.

Every beef production operation is unique. Whether the operation is intensive where human-animal interactions are more frequent, or extensive operations where the human-animal interactions are generally less frequent, recognition of varying levels of cattle docility is apparent. Investigators from two collaborating German universities recently reported on the effect of temperament traits of beef calves measured under field conditions and their relationships to performance.

Since labor is a significant component to production costs, management schemes are often devised to minimize the frequency of human-cattle interaction. This generally is limited to veterinary care or routine management procedures, both of which are associated with increased stress for the animals. Because of limited habituation to humans, negative behavioral responses of beef cattle are likely to happen more often during handling. This increases the risk of injury to both cattle and humans.

An indicator for the temperament of an animal can be measured by the behavioral response of beef cattle to human handling. Developing a standardized test(s) situation can create quantified behavior scoring which can then lead to a comparison of temperament. Previous research has shown that temperament differs among beef cattle breed and sexes. It also has been shown that temperament is related to various aspects of animal production such as daily body weight gain, feed conversion and beef quality.

One such test is the chuteside test for temperament. Chute scores reflect the behavior of the animal while restrained in the head gate and a value is assigned as soon as the head is caught. A score of one to five is used with a one representing a calm animal with no movement. A five score is assigned when rearing, twisting of the body, or violent struggling occurs.

Another test is the visual flight-speed test whereby a score is assigned following observance of the gait of the animal while leaving the chute. This can sometimes be referred to as the exit velocity. This is a four score system where one equals an animal walking out of the chute; a two associated with a trot; a three references an animal running out of the chute; and a four representative of an animal jumping out of the chute.

In this study, 3.050 German Angus, Charolais, Hereford, Limousin, and Simmental calves were used to examine temperament traits of beef cattle using these two different test procedures. Each breed was represented by at least 424 animals per breed. Tests were conducted in 2006 and 2007 on 24 different commercial beef cattle farms in northern and eastern Germany. Importantly, a single, trained observer assigned all subjective scores for each test.

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In this study, Charolais and Limousin cattle had the highest scores for both the chuteside test and the visual flight-speed test. Herefords had the lowest chute scores and Angus and Herefords had the lowest flight-speed scores. The conclusion offered from this study was that Angus and Herefords had a more favorable temperament than Charolais, Limousin and Simmental calves. As well, this study found that heifers were more docile than male calves.

This study also assessed the genetic heritability for the two scores. They ranged from a genetic heritability for chute-and flight-speed scores of 0.11 for Limousin cattle to a heritability of 0.33 for the chute score and 0.36 for the flight-speed score in Hereford cattle. Progress in temperament can be made genetically in making culling decisions based upon these two tests. This study also indicated among all breeds, the more docile the animals, the greater the average daily gain of the calves.