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Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources

A cow’s bad temperament can result in poor profits

STILLWATER, Oklahoma – October is a traditional weaning and culling time for spring-calving herds, meaning producers need to decide which cows no longer are helpful to the operation and which heifer calves will be kept for future replacements.
A cow’s bad temperament can result in poor profits

How ornery is too ornery in a cow? (Photo by Todd Johnson)

Selecting against ill-tempered cattle has always made good sense, reminds Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension emeritus animal scientist and editor of OSU’s popular Cow-Calf Corner newsletter.

“Wild cattle are hard on equipment, people, other cattle and an operation’s bottom line,” he said.

In a 2006 study, Mississippi State University researchers – Vann and others – 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, carcass characteristics and net profit.

Temperament was scored on a scale of one to five, with one being nonaggressive and docile to five being very aggressive and 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,” Selk said. “Exit velocity and pen scores were highly correlated.”

As pen scores increased, so did exit velocity, according to the MSU study. As pen score and exit velocity increased, health treatments costs and number of days treated also increased, while average daily gain and final body weight decreased.

“This outcome makes perfect sense,” Selk said. “Other studies have shown excitable temperament can diminish immune responsiveness, with more temperamental calves having a reduced response to vaccination when compared with calm calves.”

The study indicated that as pen temperament score increased, net profit per head tended to decline. Pen temperament scores and net profits per head were as follows:
● One was $121.89;
● Two was $100.98;
● Three was $107.18;
● Four was $83.75; and
● Five was $80.81.

“Although feed and cattle price relationships have changed since this data was collected, one would expect similar impacts from the temperaments of cattle under today’s economic situation,” Selk said.

Heritability is the portion of the differences in a trait that can be attributed to genetics. The heritability of temperament in beef cattle has been estimated to range from 0.36 to 0.45.

“This moderate level of heritability indicates real progress can be made by selecting against wild cattle,” Selk said. “Whether we are marketing our calf crop at weaning or retaining ownership throughout the feedlot phase, owning and raising excitable cattle is expensive.”

Oklahoma is the nation’s fourth-leading producer of cows, according to USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service data.

The Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service is a state agency administered by OSU’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources. It is one of three equal parts that make up the university’s state and federally mandate teaching, research and Extension land-grant mission.

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