Temperament plays key role in cattle health

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U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and university scientists have found that cattle temperament influences how animals should be handled, how they perform and how they respond to disease.

The team of researchers looked at stressful events—such as weaning, transportation and vaccination—that beef cattle experience during routine management practices. The researchers examined interrelationships of stress and cattle temperament with transportation, immune challenges and production traits.

Studies were conducted by animal scientist and research leader Jeff Carroll at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Livestock Issues Research Unit (LIRU) in Lubbock, Texas; associate research professor Rhonda Vann at Mississippi State University's Brown Loam Branch Experiment Station; animal physiologist Ron Randel at Texas AgriLife Research, The Texas A&M University (TAMU) System, in Overton; and endocrinologist Tom Welsh, Texas A&M AgriLife Research and TAMU Department of Animal Science, in College Station.

Between 24 and 36 calves were used for each study, depending on the trial. An exit velocity system, which measures the rate at which an animal exits a squeeze chute and crosses a certain distance, was used to select for temperament. A pen scoring system was used in conjunction with exit velocity to calculate an overall temperament score for cattle selected as the calmest, the most temperamental or as intermediate.

When challenged with a bacterial toxin, cattle showed dramatic differences in sickness behavior, depending on their temperament. The more temperamental animals failed to show behaviors that allow detection of sick animals, whereas calm animals immediately displayed visual signs and became ill. Studies also revealed that temperamental cattle did not have the same vigorous immunological response to a vaccine as less temperamental cattle in the same herd.

In related research, the team found that the main cause of stress for cattle was not transportation itself, but being handled and loaded into a trailer.

However, transportation duration and conditions were found to have negative effects on intramuscular fat or marbling, which is used for fast sources of energy by cattle being transported. Marbling determines the quality grade of beef. Lower levels of marbling reduce quality grade. Temperamental cattle have less fat stores, indicating that temperament makes a difference in the final quality grade.

ARS is USDA's principal intramural scientific research agency.

Source: Sandra Avant

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Nebraska  |  February, 26, 2013 at 11:15 AM

Your story indicated that less temperamental cattle got ill and displayed it, while more temperamental cattle did not show signs of Illness. Is that what was meant to be said? This study did not take a look at causes of temperament problems? Just what happens due to attitude after weaning seems to be studied. There should be a study done on the effects of temperament on the cattleman when he is trying to handle the calves or the cow!!! Temperament is a big deal to smaller 50 cow kind of operations where facilities and fences may not be as good. Cattleman that pay attention know that there is a large difference in blood lines and (lesser) between breeds for this. Salers jumping fences- Tarentaise hard to push through an alley!

shaun evertson    
Nebraska  |  February, 28, 2013 at 12:05 PM

Nice try but do these studies tell us anything? How do you correlate exit V with temperament? Were different variables associated with exit V studied? Were other temperament variables studied (facing up, head shake, onset of fight reaction, etc.)? I've raised and worked cattle for more than 30 years and I've seen nothing in cattle behavior which would lead me to correlate chute exit V with temperament. I agree that bad temperament does not a good cow make, however, chute exit V isn't providing useful information. As an aside, how many FSIS inspectors could be paid for the price of these non-useful studies? Are there any grownups in the study-approval process?

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