Research carried out by the Beef CRC indicates an animals’ temperament can affect its long term growth rate and reduce carcass and meat quality.
The findings form part of a PhD project undertaken by Linda Cafe, Technical Officer with the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries (NSWDPI) in Armidale.
“Temperamental or ‘flighty’ cattle grow more slowly and produce smaller, leaner carcasses with tougher meat than calmer animals,” Ms Cafe said.
The study involved Brahman heifers and steers that were backgrounded at the Glen Innes Research Station and then finished on grain at the Beef CRCs ‘Tullimba’ feedlot.
The cattle were yard weaned on their home properties and overall, were a very manageable group of weaners.
The cattle were assessed for temperament regularly during backgrounding and in the feedlot using flight speed and crush score, two temperament measures which will be familiar to industry.
“Flight speed was calculated in metres per second by using the animals’ flight time. Flight time is the time it takes to cover a short distance after leaving a weighing crush. The crush score indicates how much agitation the animal shows while confined in the crush. A score of one is very calm while five is highly agitated,” Ms Cafe said.
The cattle were grouped into three temperament categories based on their backgrounding flight speed: ‘quiet’, ‘average’ and ‘flighty’.
“The herd quickly became used to the intensive handling required for the experiment. While the cattle became calmer over time, the ‘flighty’ cattle still recorded the highest flight speed throughout the experiment.”
“The ‘flighty’ cattle also had lower individual feedlot intakes,” Ms Cafe said. “But there was no difference in feed conversion ratio or net feed efficiency between the three groups. It simply appears that the poorer growth rates in the ‘flighty’ cattle were related more to a lower motivation to eat.”
Ms Cafe said after 120 days on grain the ‘flighty’ animals yielded carcasses which were 10 per cent lighter than quiet animals with 18 per cent less rib fat. She added they also tended to have less tender meat
“The ‘flighty’ animals were about half a kilogram higher in shear force. Shear force is a measure of how much force it takes to cut through a piece of meat. It can be likened to taking a bite from a piece of steak,” Ms Cafe said.
Ms Cafe said the results confirm selecting cattle with better temperaments rather than culling those with poor temperaments can not only improve productivity but can improve safety for the cattle and their handlers.
“The benefits may be more apparent in more intensive systems such as the feedlot, but they will apply to any animal which ends up on a truck going to an abattoir,” she said.