Over the years, as I have worked with beef cattle owners I have asked them where temperament ranks as they make culling decisions and decide which animals and genetics to keep in the herd. I have heard replies ranging from “It’s a factor, something I keep in mind” to “It’s one of the top 3 factors in my decision”. I recently read an article in Drovers Cattlenetwork on-line by Glenn Selk, Department of Animal Science at Oklahoma State University, in which he presented the results of a couple of studies showing that wild and/or excitable cattle negatively affect profit in the cattle operation. Here are excerpts from that article:
Dr. Selk cited a Mississippi State University study published in 2006 that 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 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. As pen score increased, net profit per head tended to decline.
A Colorado State University study published in 1996 examined the effects of temperament on weight gains and the incidence of dark cutting. Cattle were temperament ranked, on a 5 point system, while animals were held on a single animal scale. Their results show that there is a highly significant effect of temperament ranking on average daily gain. Animals exhibiting the highest temperament ranking also have the lowest average daily gains. Conversely, animals that were the calmest had the highest average daily gains. Those cattle that have the highest temperament ranking, those that were berserk, also have the highest incidence of dark cutters. Dark cutter carcasses will be discounted approximately 20-25 dollars per hundred pounds compared to carcasses with normal colored lean.
How effective can culling be to improve the temperament of your herd? Temperament is considered a moderately heritable characteristic with a heritability score of 0.36 to 0.45. This indicates that progress can be made by selecting against flighty and excitable cattle.