Written by Miles Stagemeyer under the direction and review of Dr. Rosie Nold.
Is there a relationship between temperament and profitability in cattle? A recent study conducted by Texas A&M University took a closer look at the impacts that temperament and breed types can have on feedlot growth performance, feed efficiency, feeding behavior, carcass characteristics, and value in finishing beef heifers. In order to better understand these effects, researchers conducted three trials using Braford, Brangus, Simbrah, and purebred Angus females from the same ranch. The breeds represented are a reflection of several research projects that have suggested that Brahman-influenced cattle are more excitable in feeding situations. Although several trials have looked at carcass differences, none have taken such an in-depth approach to analyzing behavior, performance, and efficiency.
Before starting the study, heifers were weaned and given a period to adapt to the feedlot ration and electronic bunk system. Each animal was equipped with a radio frequency identification tag (RFID), which was used in tandem with the Grow Safe® bunk system, and provided data on meal frequency and duration, head-down duration and the amount of time it took for each animal to reach their bunk following feed delivery. In order to better understand the effects of temperament, heifers were classified as calm or excitable which was determined by calculating exit velocity from the processing chute. Additional data included individual weights and ultrasound data for subcutaneous backfat depth, intramuscular fat percentage, and loin muscle area. Heifers were slaughtered after reaching a target back fat depth of approximately .55 inches. Carcass data was collected and 48 hours after slaughter, two one-inch thick steaks were removed and later cooked and tested for Warner-Bratzler shear force. Carcass values were determined based upon a three-year average for the discounts and premiums associated with quality grade, yield grade, and hot carcass weight.
Similar to previous research, breed type played a role in the differences seen in carcass measurements and endpoint values. More interesting were the differences between the calm and excitable heifers. Calm heifers had 8% greater backfat depths and 3% greater intramuscular fat percentages when ultrasound measurements were taken on day 70. The actual carcass measurements of heifers deemed as excitable showed 6% less back fat depth and 4% lower hot carcass weights with a tendency for less marbling. Shear force data confirmed that calm heifers produced more tender steaks with 7% less shear force. In an industry driven by quality, these figures reflect the value that cattle with calm temperaments can bring forth in regard to consumer satisfaction. Depending on the marketing grid used, calm heifers had 4 to 5% greater carcass values compared to the excitable contemporaries.
Amongst the live performance, efficiency and feeding behavior characteristics, breed type played a minimal role. This suggests that the crossbred heifers had minimal Brahman influence, but more importantly highlights the importance of pre-weaning handling of the animals. After eliminating breed type from the equation, the differences between calm and excitable heifers were more apparent. Calm heifers had an 8% higher dry matter intake along with 12% greater average daily gain and 4% better gain to feed. These improvements in performance are logically supported by differences in feeding behavior. Calm heifers had 12% more bunk visits per meal than excitable heifers and consumed larger meals for a longer period of time. This was further enhanced by the calm group taking less time to get to the bunk after feed delivery.
What can be gained from all of this? This study shows the impact that temperament can have whether it be from a producer, consumer, or meat packing standpoint. Temperament plays a role in efficiency, carcass quality, and palatability. In this study, calmer cattle gained faster and more efficiently in the feedlot and produced more valuable carcasses.
Further research is needed to fully understand the driving factors of what makes cattle more excitable. Until then, producers should take a more insightful approach in terms of mating and handling decisions when it comes to producing cattle that are less excitable pre-weaning. Feedlots can evaluate groups of cattle and promote practices that allow excitable groups to remain more comfortable with the ultimate goal of increasing efficiency. With this in mind, producers can work towards creating a more wholesome product that ultimately creates more excitement and consumer demand. Cattle temperament is not a new area of study, but one that will continue to play a role in creating more efficient and sustainable beef production.
- Olson, C.A., Carstens, G.E., Herring, A.D., Hale, D.S., Kayser, W.C., Miller, R.K. (2019). Effects of temperament at feedlot arrival and breed type on growth efficiency, feeding behavior, and carcass value in finishing heifers. Journal of Animal Science 97(4).