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Calmness In Cattle Pays In Multiple Ways

Research shows calmer cows have higher levels of milk production, which translates into more pounds of calf weaned. Meanwhile,

Research shows calmer cows have higher levels of milk production, which translates into more pounds of calf weaned. Meanwhile, calves with calmer temperaments exhibit a better response to vaccination at weaning, tend to exhibit better growth performance and body composition, are quieter and calmer in the feedlot during handling and have higher average daily gains (ADG) than cattle with more excitable temperaments. Calmer cattle also save on wear and tear on facilities, equipment and personnel.

Research also has categorized temperament as a moderately heritable trait. Thus, producers can impact this trait through selection in subsequent generations. The American Gelbvieh Association (AGA) recommends producers in a calm herd answer the following questions:

  • Do I select bulls and heifers for my program with good temperament, not just cull those with bad ones?
  • Do I track records of those cows that I have culled for temperament and watch daughters closely as well?
  • When I select replacement heifers do I make my first cut with 10-15% more than I need and work back through them with a more critical eye for structural issues and temperament before I make my final selection?
  • Could my program benefit from a scoring system that I could use internally for my own selection decisions?
  • Could I then use these values to promote the docility within my program?
The Beef Improvement Federation provides these scores and definitions for evaluating temperament and disposition in cattle. It's recommended the scoring be done at weaning or yearling age, which will reduce the extent that the current behavior is influenced by prior handling experiences.

Score 1 -- Docile. Mild disposition. Gentle and easily handled. Stand and moves slowly during processing. Undisturbed, settled, somewhat dull. Does not pull on headgate when in chute. Exits chute calmly.
Score 2 -- Restless. Quieter than average, but may be stubborn during processing. May try to back out of chute or pull back on headgate. Some flicking of tail. Exits chute promptly.
Score 3 -- Nervous. Typical temperament is manageable, but nervous and impatient. A moderate amount of struggling, movement and tail flicking. Repeated pushing and pulling on headgate. Exits chute briskly.
Score 4 -- Flighty (Wild). Jumpy and out of control, quivers and struggles violently. May bellow and froth at the mouth. Continuous tail flicking. Defecates and urinates during processing. Frantically runs fence line and may jump when penned individually. Exhibits long flight distance and exits chute wildly.
Score 5 -- Aggressive. May be similar to Score 4, but with added aggressive behavior, fearfulness, extreme agitation, and continuous movement which may include jumping and bellowing while in chute. Exits chute frantically and may exhibit attack behavior when handled alone.
Score 6 -- Very Aggressive. Extremely aggressive temperament. Thrashes about or attacks wildly when confined in small, tight places. Pronounced attack behavior.

For more info, visit
AGA news release