Sometimes we wonder if that cow rattling the chute is worth keeping. Recent research suggests maybe not. Studies conducted several years ago with Brahman-crosses found that cows with excitable temperaments had lower pregnancy rates than their calmer herdmates. Wanting to know if this occurred in other types of cattle, researchers at Oregon State University conducted a study to look at  the effect of cattle temperament and acclimation to handling on reproductive performance in Angus × Hereford cross cows. Their results were reported in the October issue of the Journal of Animal Science.

Over four hundred spring-calving range cows at two locations in eastern Oregon were tested for temperament using both a chute score and measurement of exit velocity from a squeeze chute. The chute score is a 5-point scale (1= calm, no movement, 2 = restless movement, 3 = frequent movement with vocalization, 4 = constant movement, vocalization, shaking of the chute, 5 = violent and continuous struggling). Exit velocity was measured with an infrared sensor and converted to a score of 1 (slowest) through 5 (fastest). The chute and exit scores were averaged to give a temperament score, either adequate (less than 3) or aggressive (more than 3).

About 25% of the cows were scored as aggressive and these cows had lower pregnancy rates (89%) than the adequate temperament cows (95%). At one location, cows were bred by AI and then exposed to natural service clean up bulls. The second location used natural service mating only. The fact that bulls were used indicates that the lowered pregnancy rates in the aggressive cows were not due only to stress during handling at AI. Cow body condition and calf birth and weaning weights were not different between the groups and there were also no difference between groups in pregnancy loss or loss of calves from birth to weaning. Decreased weight of calves weaned per cow exposed in the aggressive groups was related to the effect on pregnancy rate alone. Based on this and other studies, the researchers suggest culling on temperament or adapting cattle to handling could help in maximizing reproductive performance in beef cows.

These researchers reported on a second study on the effect of acclimating heifers to handling on reproductive performance. After weaning, they divided 6-month-old heifers into two groups of about 44 heifers each. One group was processed through a handling facility three times a week for four weeks. Heifers receiving more frequent handling reached puberty at an earlier age than their herdmates, but pregnancy rates after AI were not different. The more frequently-handled heifers had lower exit scores, but not chute scores compared to those handled less frequently. The researchers therefore suggest that exposing heifers to handling and human interaction may improve reproduction. They do caution that this training needs to occur when animals are fairly young. In a previous study, when they attempted to acclimate mature cows to handling, they were not successful at improving pregnancy rates.  Questions remaining to be addressed are the minimum amount of handling needed and the best age for training. 

In summary: Pregnancy rates were improved in groups of cows with less aggressive temperaments. Heifers acclimated to handling at about 6-months-of-age reached puberty at an earlier age and had slower chute exit scores than heifers handled less frequently. Acclimating young animals to handling and culling on temperament can have beneficial effects on reproduction in beef cattle.

Source: Cooke, R.F., D. W. Bohnert, B.I. Cappellozza, C.J. Mueller, and T. DelCurto. 2012. Effects of temperament and acclimation to handling on reproductive performance of Bos taurus beef females. Journal of Animal Science 90:3547-3555. Abstract available online.