Steve Paisley talks about reducing stress in cattle, and how it improves overall performance
Recording temperament levels of animals within a herd can enable producers to eliminate, or select against, highly stressed animals, and thus improve productivity in multiple economically important areas, explained University of Wyoming Extension Beef Cattle Specialist Steve Paisley, during WESTI Ag Days in Worland, WY, on Feb. 7.
Paisley noted that animals have different thresholds of stress they can handle, and eliminating the percentage of highly excitable animals within a herd can aid in reducing stress related problems within the entire population.
“Temple Grandin did work on how to evaluate your own cattle for temperament, and what to do from a management standpoint to aid in making selection decisions based on temperament,” stated Paisley.
Grandin suggested using a four-point scale for measuring temperament of cattle while in a squeeze chute.
A number one represented an animal that was still and didn’t move, a number two would indicate the animal was restless and shifted while in the chute, and a number three was given to those animals who squirmed and continuously shook in the chute. A number four was the most excitable, and was given to those animals that reared, and put up a violent struggle for the duration of their time in the squeeze chute.
“In addition to measuring how the animal responded while in the chute, you can also measure how fast, and in what way, they exited the squeeze chute,” continued Paisley, explaining a similar numbering system dictates if animals calmly walked out, or reared and fled in obvious excitement.
Paisley highlighted a study by Professor Cooke, of Oregon State University, that collected chute score data, and compared it to the actual performance of heifer and steer calves being fed a growing ration. He found that animals scoring a one in the chute, gained 2.6 pounds per day, those scoring a two gained 2.5 pounds per day, and three scoring animals gained 2.3 pounds per day. Animals scoring a four gained 2.2 pounds per day, and the very excitable animals who scored a five only gained 2.1 pounds per day, which was half a pound less per day than the animals who were calmest in the chute.
“We’re trying to measure disposition by how they were standing in the chute, but what about when they were standing in the pen? We tend to think those five scoring, cattle will probably have a higher chance of disease, and will be treated for a larger percentage of sickness because their higher stress levels will impact their immune system, especially at weaning. Calm cattle that walk everywhere also don’t tend to be lame, it’s the ones scuffing their feet on bunks and slipping and falling in the alley when they hit the fence that have those issues,” noted Paisley of other performance impacts that can be the result of high stress animals.
He added that more stressed cattle also tend to be at the back of the pen more often, and this can impact feed intake in some instances. Quoting additional studies that all showed at least a 20 percent difference in average daily gains between cattle that were scored in the top half for being calm versus the bottom half, using the chute scoring system.
“Cooke has also done studies on heifers being artificially inseminated, with the idea of improving our ability to get heifers bred using synchronization and artificial insemination breeding programs. He used the one-five temperament scoring method, and found that calmer animals tend to cycle earlier in life. Heifers who scored, “extremely calm,” or a one in the chute had an 88 percent conception rate using natural service, versus, a 60 percent conception rate in those that scored, “highly excitable,” continued Paisley. Noting those percentages would likely be exemplified if they were artificially inseminated.
Additional studies highlighted used the temperament scoring method, and related it to carcass traits in harvested animals. Results showed that animals scoring a one for temperament had 88.9 percent of their carcasses classified as tender, versus only 60.0 percent in animals scoring a four. Average bruising, in pounds, trimmed from carcasses of animals scoring a one was 3.5 pounds, versus 5.3 in those animals scoring a five.
“Often a person has a few animals that are high stress scorers, and they elevate the stress level of the entire herd. Through handling cattle in a low stress situation, and giving every cow and heifer a score as she is in the squeeze chute, and exiting it, a person can select and manage away from those individuals,” explained Paisley.
“To improve temperament, you can quietly walk through cattle, perhaps when you feed, and practice “working” cattle in your facilities. Studies show stress is lower after livestock have been acclimated to human handling, and or a set of facilities,” noted Paisley.
He concluded that other times there is a larger problem, and that evaluating bulls and bloodlines, making adjustments to working facilities, and improved communication between the people working cattle may be necessary to improve temperament for both the livestock and humans involved.