Department of Animal Sciences
Colorado State University
Fort Collins, CO 80523-1171
Another good measure of temperament is recording speed when cattle exit from a squeeze chute. Exit speed can be recorded by two methods. The first is a police radar unit that is used for measuring speeding cars and the second is recording the animal's gait. Gait can be recorded as walk, trot, run, or jump. Gait scoring is very objective because the different gaits are very distinct.
Both Bos Taurus (European/English) cattle and Bos indicus (Brahman cross) cattle that became agitated during handling had significantly lower weight gains (Voisinet et al., 1997a). Calm animals had 14% to 10% higher weight gain. After these cattle were processed, their meat quality was measured. In the Brahman cross group, the animals that became excited and agitated in the squeeze chute had more borderline dark cutters and tougher meat. The calmest animals that stood still in the squeeze had Warner Bratzler Shear Force measurements that averaged 2.86 kg and the cattle that cattle that struggled violently during restraint had tougher meat that averaged 3.63 kg (Voisinet et al., 1997b). Forty percent of the agitated cattle had shear force measurements that were over 3.9 kg which is the threshold value for acceptability in food service establishments. Hiefers became more agitated in the squeeze chute than steers (Voisinet et al., 1997a).
Measuring the speed of cattle exiting a squeeze chute may be a less subjective and more accurate measurement of temperament than chute score where an observer assigns a score to the degree of agitation in the squeeze chute. Lanier et al. (2002) used both chute score and exit speed score to determine if cattle that had thin foreleg bones were more excitable. Exit speed scores were assigned for walk, trot, canter, or jump after exiting. The standard horse gaits were used and were assigned numbers of 1, 2, 3, or 4. This is less subjective than chute scores and no equipment is required. Cattle with thin foreleg bones exited at a faster gait. Chute score showed no significant differneces due to higher variability. Research by Baker et al. (2003) indicated that exit speed score is more accurate than chute score. They timed the speed of cattle movement between two laser sensors which were spaced 1.83 M (6 ft.) apart in front of the squeeze chute. Heifers exited faster than steers and high speeders had lower weight gains. R.D. Randel at Texas A&M University explained that for beef calves, chute score and exit score will both work. Chute scoring becomes much less accurate for old tame cows that are accustomed to the squeeze chute. For these animals, exit speed score is recommended. The use of laser sensors would be impractical on many ranches and more practical alternatives are the radar camera or simple gait scoring of walk, trot, canter, or jump. Both methods are less subjective than chute scores. Another way to improve chute score accuracy is to use four ratings as shown in this paper instead of five. When cattle are being temperament scored, the same people should move all of the cattle into the chute. Calm quiet handling is essential for accurate temperament scores. Yelling or excessive use of electric prods will distort temperament scores.
Temperament scoring will probably be more accurate for detecting genetic differences in animals when it is done in a novel environment. Cattle that are quietly handled every day in a squeeze chute will often become accustomed to it and learning will cause their temperament score to decrease. Therefore if bulls are being scored for temperament it would be best to score them the first time they are handled in the squeeze chute. They should also be scored whenever they are handled. Unless they are handled very frequently in the squeeze chute, learning is less likely to affect the scores of either the most agitated or the calmest animals. Littlefield et all., 2001, found that cattle became easier to handle when they were carefully and quietly handled in a squeeze chute every day for eight days. The wildest most excitable animals remained in the back of the group and were the last animals to move through the squeeze chutes.
Ranchers have observed that some cattle may be calm at the home ranch and then become highly agitated and crash into a fence at an auction. Animals that have flighty, excitable genetics may act calm at home where they are with familiar people, but may become highly agitated when they are suddenly driven into a novel environment such as an auction ring. Cattle with calmer genetics will usually behave in a relatively calm manner both at the home ranch and in a novel environment such as an auction. For more information on how new experiences affect behavior refer to (Grandin 1997, 1998, 2000). The genetic effects on an animal's reactivity and agitation are more likely to be exhibited when the animal is tested in a novel unfamiliar place.
The cattle that flinched when the ringman swung his arm and "yipped" to take a bid were more likely to have a higher temperament score. What this means is that sensitivity to high pitched noise and rapid movement is one of the factors which comprises the temperament of an animal. Cattle that become agitated in an auction ring are more sensitive to certain stimuli. These animals appear to be more aware of what is going on in their environment. Observations by both the author and ranchers indicate that cattle that have the tendency to become easily agitated are the first animals to raise their heads and point their ears and eyes towards new sights and sounds.
A good principle when selecting for temperament is to cull the animals that rate a 4 and get rid of the "crazy" cattle. One also has to be careful not to cull a good animal that becomes highly agitated because the one in front of it was rearing or struggling.
The temperament tests describe in this article mainly measure fearfulness. Cattle temperament may consist of other traits. The ability of a mother cow to defend her calf out on the range may not be related to exit speed score (Perez-Torres, et al, 2014). Further studied by Floreke et al (2012) indicated that the height of the hairwhorl on a cow's forehead is related to vigilance. A vigilant cow will notice a potential threat to her calf more quickly. There are also individual differences in a mother cow vocalizing to call her calf. Some mother cows call their calf and others do not. There is a possibility that the trait of being vigilant can be separated from the fearfulness trait that is measured with standard chute scoring and exit speed scoring (Grandin and Deesing, 2013).
Ranchers that graze cattle on extensive pasture which has many predators often select cows using the following criteria:
Normally a hairwhorl high on the forehead and a high fearful chute score or fast exit score occur together. When the above selection criteria are used, the trait of vigilance (awareness of surroundings) may get separated from the fear trait. The resulting animal has a high hairwhorl is heavy boned and calm around people. There is much more to be learned about temperament. In conclusion, never over select for any trait. Over selection for the lowest, slowest exit speed may reduce mothering or foraging. Breeders should look for an optimum selection for different traits and not become narrow minded over selecting for single traits.
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Florcke, C. et al. 2012. Individual differences in calf defence patterns in Red Angus beef cows. Applied Animal Behavior Science. 139:203-208.
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Perez-Torres, L. 2014. Maternal protective behavior of zebu type cattle (Bos Indicus) and it's association with temperament. Journal of Animal Science. 92:4694-4700.
Vetters, M.D. et al. 2014. Comparison of flight speed an dexit score as measurements of temperament in beef cattle. Journal of Animal Science. 91:374-381.
In conclusion of this update, these studies indicate that four different emotional traits may be being assessed. These would be fearfulness in traditional temperament tests. Calf defense may be RAGE (anger), which is separate from fear. A cow vocalizing to call her calf is probably motivated by the separation distress trait. All the studies that show differign behavior on pasture use may be measuring the strenth of the SEEK exploration trait. In looking at a range of scientific studies, the following Pankseep emotional traits may be assessed:
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Florcke, C. et al. 2012. Differences in calf defense patterns in Red Angus beef cows. Applied Animal Behavior Science. 138:203-208.
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|Figure 1: Perfect spiral hairwhorl with a round epicenter that is located below the eyes. Cattle with hairwhorls above the top of the eyes are more excitable. Cattle with hairwhorls below the eyes are calmer. Bulls with perfect round hairwhorls with a round epicenter may be more fertile.|
Bulls with an abnormal asymetrical forehead hair pattern that had an elongated epicenter that looked like a crooked line, were more likely to fail the breeding soundness exam.
|Figure 2: Abnormal, asymetrical hair pattern with an elongated epicenter that is longer than the width of the eyes. Bulls with abnormal hairwhorl patterns like this may be less fertile.|
Bulls were sorted into two groups. Animals with perfect round spirals with round epicenters and bulls with a single crooked line that was longer than the width of their eyes. Eighty three percent of the bulls with perfect round spirals passed the breeding soundess exam and only 50% of the bulls with a long crooked line passed.
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