Docility | TSLN.com

Docility

Dave Barz, DVM

For the May 22, 2010 edition of Tri-State Livestock News.

It’s about time! Spring is finally here. Most are busy planting row crops, but many of you are preparing your cow-calf pairs to go to grass. We are busy marketing vaccines, implants and fly control to our clients. Recently I asked a producer how things were going. He told me, “Not so good, I’ve got two broken ribs.” Then I remembered sending my assistant at the sale-barn to the hospital for stitches as the result of a flying gate. These examples highlight a trait we have minimized in the last few years, DOCILITY.

The older I get the more I appreciate heifers, cows, and calves that are easy to handle. Thirty-five years ago no one used yearling bulls, and most of the two-year-olds were halter broke. It was simple to throw a loop on an adult animal and have it restrained immediately. You could then put a halter on and treat it for foot-rot or pinkeye and then release it. Now it takes a good horse or two to restrain similar sized animals.

Most of us agree with the newer innovations in cattle handling which try to move the cows without alarming them by understanding how their brains work. This points out the falsehoods in two cowboy axioms:

• Cows have no brains;

• You”ll never understand how females think.

Quieter slow movements help, but the animals must be used to you, your horses or the 4-wheelers.

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In recent years we have been so concerned about weaning weights, yearling weights and carcass quality that we have lost track of docility. Research has shown that docility is moderately heritable and could be an effective method of passing attributes to the off spring. This is true on a one to one basis as in mother to calf but can also be true on a larger scale as a bull passing attitudes to all his heifer calves retained in your herd.

Research has shown that cattle with poor temperament may show reduced performance, more health problems, and decreased carcass quality. Calm cattle generally have higher average daily gains and a lower incidence of ‘dark cutters.’ It has also show that cattle with tough attitudes also produce tough meat. One study showed a $62.19 advantage per head on calm verses aggressive cattle.

Monitoring docility is simple, but requires a few records. Your calf book is a good way to highlight cows which become excited or aggressive at calving. These calves should be extensively scrutinized before adding to the herd. When you are working your cows as a group note animals which are flighty or constantly have their head and ears up. When you select bulls try to choose calm bulls which don’t become aggressive during animal-human interaction.

Many ranches have a scoring system for calves as they are worked in the chute. They are numerical scores which measure the reluctance of going into the chute, the amount of struggle and fighting the calf performs in the chute, bellaring and head shaking in the chute, and how far and fast the calf runs leaving the chute. This sounds complex, but us usually very simple.

Docility is a heritable trait we have minimized in our selection process over the past decades. Using docility as a selection trait will:

• Minimize handler injuries;

• Minimize animal injuries;

• Limit damage to facilities;

• Improve feedlot performance;

• Improved health and immunity.

Consult your veterinarian, extension specialist, or nutritionalist for a system which will improve the docility in your herd. This will result in both personal and economic benefits in your cow-calf herd.

It’s about time! Spring is finally here. Most are busy planting row crops, but many of you are preparing your cow-calf pairs to go to grass. We are busy marketing vaccines, implants and fly control to our clients. Recently I asked a producer how things were going. He told me, “Not so good, I’ve got two broken ribs.” Then I remembered sending my assistant at the sale-barn to the hospital for stitches as the result of a flying gate. These examples highlight a trait we have minimized in the last few years, DOCILITY.

The older I get the more I appreciate heifers, cows, and calves that are easy to handle. Thirty-five years ago no one used yearling bulls, and most of the two-year-olds were halter broke. It was simple to throw a loop on an adult animal and have it restrained immediately. You could then put a halter on and treat it for foot-rot or pinkeye and then release it. Now it takes a good horse or two to restrain similar sized animals.

Most of us agree with the newer innovations in cattle handling which try to move the cows without alarming them by understanding how their brains work. This points out the falsehoods in two cowboy axioms:

• Cows have no brains;

• You”ll never understand how females think.

Quieter slow movements help, but the animals must be used to you, your horses or the 4-wheelers.

In recent years we have been so concerned about weaning weights, yearling weights and carcass quality that we have lost track of docility. Research has shown that docility is moderately heritable and could be an effective method of passing attributes to the off spring. This is true on a one to one basis as in mother to calf but can also be true on a larger scale as a bull passing attitudes to all his heifer calves retained in your herd.

Research has shown that cattle with poor temperament may show reduced performance, more health problems, and decreased carcass quality. Calm cattle generally have higher average daily gains and a lower incidence of ‘dark cutters.’ It has also show that cattle with tough attitudes also produce tough meat. One study showed a $62.19 advantage per head on calm verses aggressive cattle.

Monitoring docility is simple, but requires a few records. Your calf book is a good way to highlight cows which become excited or aggressive at calving. These calves should be extensively scrutinized before adding to the herd. When you are working your cows as a group note animals which are flighty or constantly have their head and ears up. When you select bulls try to choose calm bulls which don’t become aggressive during animal-human interaction.

Many ranches have a scoring system for calves as they are worked in the chute. They are numerical scores which measure the reluctance of going into the chute, the amount of struggle and fighting the calf performs in the chute, bellaring and head shaking in the chute, and how far and fast the calf runs leaving the chute. This sounds complex, but us usually very simple.

Docility is a heritable trait we have minimized in our selection process over the past decades. Using docility as a selection trait will:

• Minimize handler injuries;

• Minimize animal injuries;

• Limit damage to facilities;

• Improve feedlot performance;

• Improved health and immunity.

Consult your veterinarian, extension specialist, or nutritionalist for a system which will improve the docility in your herd. This will result in both personal and economic benefits in your cow-calf herd.

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