If not born wild or mishandled, dollars add up

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Nobody wants cattle with too much “attitude,” but it takes focused genetics and handling to improve docility in a herd.

“We’ve always tried to be careful about selecting bulls for disposition,” says Roger Jones, of Tri-Tower Farm, near Shenandoah, Iowa. “It’s very important to us to have a cowherd that we can handle, without a lot of wild calves in it. You know, the cattle do better in the feedlot when they aren’t wild.”

Since he operates both enterprises, Jones knows how those issues carry from the field to the feedlot.

“We definitely notice pens of cattle that come in that are wilder,” he says. “Even just one or two individuals, especially when they first arrive, can keep a whole pen stirred up.”

Jones is a cooperating feeder for the Tri-County Steer Carcass Futility (TCSCF), which provides performance and carcass data so that cow-calf producers can improve management. The Futurity began in 1982, charting temperament scores first analyzed by Certified Angus Beef LLC (CAB) nine years ago and recently updated in a Black Ink Basics report.

“Calm cattle reduce injuries and facility damage, stay healthier, perform better on feed and earn higher grid premiums,” says the technical summary, “Nervous Cattle Wreck Profit Potential,” at http://www.cabpartners.com/educators.

The data analysis spans 10 years of TCSCF data on more than 65,000 cattle fed in 14 cooperating feedlots. It concludes the docile cattle earn $57.69 per head more on a grid compared to their aggressive pen mates. Part of that comes from the higher Certified Angus Beef ® brand acceptance rate for calm cattle (see chart).

Sally Northcutt, American Angus Association genetic research director, says with that kind of economic impact, it pays to understand the breed’s Docility EPD (expected progeny difference).

More than 490,000 registered Angus cattle now include that “DOC” EPD in their records, with an average of 9, and more docility scores are being collected all the time, with weekly updates.

“One of the nice parts of working with docility is that it is moderately to highly heritable,” Northcutt says.

TCSCF Manager Darrell Busby agrees much can be done through genetic selection, but he points out management still makes a big difference, and that includes handling.

“We have feedlots that check cattle on horseback, on foot and on four wheelers. They’re successful in any method,” he says. “It’s the people doing it that are the most important.”

There’s a positive impact in the feedlot when producers make a point to walk through their cattle every day and participate in low-stress handing workshops.

“We see a general improvement in disposition in the data we’ve collected,” Busby says. In turn, that leads to better gains and quality grades.

Northcutt encourages breeders to use DOC to enhance their overall balanced selection program.

“Some people originally saw docility as a convenience trait, kind of a take it or leave it,” she says. “Now we have breeders who view it as a necessity trait.”

The older and younger ends of the age spectrum, along with part-timers and single-producer operations may benefit the most from introducing docility selection to their program. Even those who see no strong need for that focus may see the dollar impact when buyers compare animals.

“Producers need to continue being good stewards of this trait,” Northcutt says, “because genetics have an impact throughout the value chain.”

Source: Morgan Slaven

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David Packham    
Roseburg, OR  |  May, 09, 2013 at 12:37 PM

Yes, but it can swing too far the other way, as Temple Grandin's research showed. If your cows are TOO docile, they won't protect their calves. Shoot for the average and you'll be fine.

Rebecca Lasher    
Holland, Indiana  |  May, 09, 2013 at 02:24 PM

I just wanted to point out that the American Simmental Association is also requesting members to give their calves a docile number when reporting information and registering. I believe they have added that to their EPD's. David Packham made a good point of needing cows to protect calves also. Like most things in life there has to be a balance.

michigan  |  May, 10, 2013 at 06:58 AM

The Limousin Breed has made great strides in Docility and has made it a High Priority in it's breed in the last 2 decades...There are a lot of bulls with Docility of over 20 . It's worked out well! We have calm cows that work with us; But if need be WILL BE Highly protective of their young. I think you can have the best of both worlds.

Michigan  |  May, 10, 2013 at 09:54 AM

We have been Angus breeders for almost 40 years. Disposition has been thought of as a convenience trait and thought disposition was environmentally influenced but not inherited and the "good ole boys" didn't think it very important anyway. I never bought into that philosophy but the best evidence I found was that, consistently, ET calves from very docile cows acted just like their biological mothers, not their surrogate mothers no matter what their dispositions were. Good handling practices can not be overstated either. You can make a good one bad if you try. I also think that intelligence is just as heritable. So they need to kill the neighbors dog if need be but be smart enough to leave you alone. I calve our 60 cows and I am neither big nor fast. We have diligently selected along those lines of a smart and protective mother cow for a long time and it has made my job safer and less stressful. Selecting for a really good mother combines a lot of traits, disposition included.

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