OVERTON – Temperamental cattle that speed out of the handling chute eat less and gain less, according to preliminary results of a study done by livestock scientists with the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station.
As those who work cattle know, there’s a big difference in temperament among animals of the same breed in the same herd. But the study shows a direct link between bad temperament and performance that impacts a beef producer’s pocketbook, and ultimately the quality and cost of beef reaching the consumer’s plate, according to Dr. Ron Randel, a scientist with the Experiment Station.
To give an objective rating of an animal’s temperament, scientists used motion detection devices that clock an individual animal’s speed coming out of the handling chute – what’s called “exit speed.” This allowed them to record a numerical measurement that corresponded to the animal’s excitability and tolerance to handling.
They found the difference between the calm, even temperament animals that strolled out of the chute and those that left like a rocket to be dramatic.
“In the first 50 days after weaning, those with an evil temperament did not gain weight at all, while those with good temperament gained weight as if they were still nursing the mother cow,” Randel said.
In the first 50 days after weaning, the bad-tempered animals lost an average of 11 pounds. Those with good temperaments those with slower exit speeds showed an average gain of 30 pounds 50 days after weaning.
The differences in exit speeds were dramatic. The calves that gained weight had an average exit speed of 1.83 meters per second (about 6 feet per second). The animals that lost weight had an average exit speed of 2.72 meters per second (about 9 feet per second).
These numbers were drawn from a cooperative study with the University of Georgia on 77 Angus and Braford calves in the fall of 2002.
A subsequent study performed at Texas Experiment Station sites at College Station and McGregor, showed that animals with high exit velocities ate less in the post-weaning period than did those with slower exit speeds.
A study by Australian beef cattle researchers showed similar results.
“The story here is that if you have a set of calves with bad temperaments, they may wean at good weights,” Randel said. “But whoever buys these calves will pay the price. Those calves are going to be more expensive to own.”
Randel is part of a research team that is looking at stress indicators in cattle and how they relate to everything from weight gain, carcass quality and even future health problems.
In 1998, the Texas legislature funded the Texas Beef Initiative, which was conceived in 1998 by the Texas A&M University Agriculture Program’s Beef Industry Team (BIT).
“The six projects funded were designed to help Texas beef producers reduce production costs, increase product consistency and consumer confidence, and develop efficient waste and odor management systems in their operations,” said Dr. Charles Long, resident director of research at Texas A&M’s agricultural research center in Overton and chair of BIT.
Stress studies performed by Randel and others with those funds led to the exit velocity study.