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Why is it important to cull poor-temperament cows?

Patrick Davis for Progressive Cattleman Published on 21 July 2017
poor-terperament cows

The obvious answer to the title question is: Poor-temperament cattle are hard to handle and for safety reasons need to be culled.

But that’s not the only reason.

Besides human health, culling poor-temperament cattle can improve an operation’s overall profitability. Pregnancy rates can improve 5 percent, calving rates 5 percent, weaning rates 6 percent, and you can wean 35 pounds more calf per cow exposed by improving cattle temperament – according to Oregon State University research.

All of these improvements equal approximately $40 per cow.

How to evaluate cattle temperament

The methods to evaluate cattle temperament revolve around activity in the chute and pen. Chute score is evaluated when cattle are restrained in the chute and scored on a 1 to 5 score, where 1 is calm with no movement and 5 is violent and continually struggling. Chute exit velocity measures the speed cattle leave the squeeze chute.

Timing sensors are placed 3 feet and 9 feet from the end of the chute, measuring time required to cover a 6-foot distance. The less travel time required indicates a poorer temperament score.

In addition, time data can be divided into quintiles and scored on a 1 to 5 scale, with 1 being the slower cattle and 5 being faster cattle. Another way to measure exit velocity is to rank the cattle as they leave the chute on a 1 to 3 scale, with 1 being the cattle that walked away from the chute and 3 being cattle that ran away.

Pen score is another way to evaluate cattle temperament. This includes walking through a pen of cattle and assessing their temperament on a 1 to 5 scale, with one being animals unalarmed and unexcited as they walk away and 5 being animals very excited and aggressive.

The dynamics of the pen evaluation are dependent on the number of animals worked and the available pen space. Prior establishment of an exit strategy is important with this method in case problems arise with wild cattle.

A closer look at its effects

Looking at temperament’s effect on growth and efficiency, Colorado State University found calmer and quieter calves at handling had greater average daily gains compared to more agitated calves.

Likewise, research in Australia showed increased average flight speed and chute scores in Brahman cattle were associated with significant reductions in backgrounding and feedlot growth rates, feed intake and time spent eating.

And for those who maintain ownership through the slaughter facility, research at CSU using Bos indicus-cross cattle showed excitable cattle produce carcasses with tougher meat and higher incidence of borderline dark cutters. Australian research with Brahman cattle showed poorer-temperament cattle produced smaller carcasses and a reduction in measures of meat quality.

In terms of reproductive efficacy, research at OSU found whether cows were bred artificially or by natural service, the poor-temperament cows had lower pregnancy rates. The study also showed heifers handled more frequently at 6 months old had reduced age at puberty and slower chute exit scores compared to heifers handled less frequently – meaning poor temperament does affect reproduction.

Overall cattle and worker health

Cattle health is also a concern when it comes to poor temperament. Research from the USDA has shown poor-temperament cattle challenged with a bacterial toxin were less likely to show sickness symptoms, making it harder to identify and treat sick animals.

In addition, research showed cattle with poor temperament did not respond well to vaccinations. This makes it challenging to build up health status when working and vaccinating these animals.

And finally, back to the most obvious reason why poor-temperament cattle should be culled: the negative impact they have on worker health, safety and facilities. Improvements in cattle temperament make a safer working environment for you and your employees.

With calmer cattle, you may also find you need fewer people to work the cattle and could even see less wear and tear on your equipment, resulting in improved profit potential of the cattle operation.

In this article, I have outlined many ways cattle temperament positively affects a cattle operation’s profit potential. So how can you improve cattle herd temperament? First, you need to identify and cull poor-temperament cows based on visual appraisal measurements mentioned previously. Another strategy is to utilize genetics.

When bulls, cows or heifers enter the herd, use temperament or docility in the selection criteria. Many breed associations have a docility expected progeny difference. Introduction of this expected progeny difference in selection criteria will improve temperament of the herd.

The final area to look at is cattle handling. Cattle remember how they were handled, so if they had a bad experience, it will be hard to handle them in the future. My suggestion would be to research and try to incorporate various low-stress handling techniques into your current cattle-handling protocols.

It is getting harder each day to be profitable in the cattle industry. I hope the information provided shows there is improved performance and profit potential for cattle operations that have calmer cattle. Furthermore, I hope this information is useful to improve performance and profitability of your cattle operation.  end mark

PHOTO: Besides being a safety concern, poor temperament can impact cattle efficiency, performance and profitability. Staff photo.

Patrick Davis
  • Patrick Davis

  • Regional Livestock Specialist
  • University of Missouri Extension
  • Email Patrick Davis