October is a traditional weaning and culling time for spring-calving herds. This is a time when producers decide which cows no longer are helpful to the operation and which heifer calves will be kept for future replacements. Selecting against ill-tempered cattle has always made good sense. Wild cattle are hard on equipment, people, other cattle, and now we know that they are hard on the bottom line.
Mississippi State University researchers (Vann and co-workers. 2006. Southern Section of American Society of Animal Science) used a total of 210 feeder cattle consigned by 19 producers in a “Farm to Feedlot” program to evaluate the effect of temperament on performance, carcass characteristics, and net profit. Temperament was scored on a 1 to 5 scale (1=nonaggressive, docile; 5=very aggressive, excitable). Three measurements were used: pen score, chute score, and exit velocity. Measurements were taken on the day of shipment to the feedlot. Exit velocity is an evaluation of temperament that is made electronically by measuring the speed at which the animal leaves the confinement of the chute. Exit velocity and pen scores were highly correlated. As pen scores increased, so did exit velocity. As pen score and exit velocity increased, health treatments costs and number of days treated increased, while average daily gain and final body weight decreased. This outcome makes perfect sense. Other studies have shown that excitable temperament can diminish immune responsiveness, with more temperamental calves having a reduced response to vaccination when compared with calm calves.
In the Mississippi study, as pen temperament score increased, net profit per head tended to decline. Pen temperament scores and net profits per head were as follows: 1=$121.89; 2=$100.98; 3=$107.18; 4=$83.75; 5=$80.81. Although feed and cattle price relationships have changed since this data was collected, one would expect similar impacts from the temperaments of cattle under today’s economic situation.
“Heritability” is the portion of the differences in a trait that can be attributed to genetics. The heritability of temperament in beef cattle has been estimated to range from 0.36 to 0.45. This moderate level of heritability indicates that real progress can be made by selecting against wild cattle. Whether we are marketing our calf crop at weaning or retaining ownership throughout the feedlot phase, wild, excitable cattle are expensive to own and raise.