Temperament matters in cattle performance

Temperament matters in cattle performance

*Dr. Reinaldo F. Cooke is with Oregon State University's Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Center in Burns, Ore. To expedite answers to questions concerning this column, please direct inquiries to Feedstuffs, Bottom Line of Nutrition, 5810 W. 78th St., Suite 200, Bloomington, Minn. 55439, or email comments@feedstuffs.com

LAST month, this column described how temperament affects the reproductive performance of Bos indicus-influenced cattle (Cooke et al., 2009ab; Cooke et al., 2011) and briefly mentioned that the same relationship holds true for Bos taurus breeds.

To further expand on this latter topic, this column summarizes research studies conducted at Oregon State University's Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Center in Burns, Ore., that evaluated the relationship between temperament with reproductive, growth and health parameters of Angus x Hereford cattle.


Reproductive performance

In one experiment (Cooke et al., 2012), 433 multiparous, lactating Angus x Hereford cows were evaluated for temperament at the beginning of a 60-day breeding season.

Cow temperament was assessed by chute score and exit velocity. The chute score was assessed on a five-point scale according to behavioral responses during chute restraining. The exit score was calculated by dividing exit velocity into quintiles and assigning cows with a score from one to five, with one being the slowest and five being the fastest cows.

Temperament score was calculated by averaging chute and exit scores. Cows were classified for temperament type according to temperament score: less than or equal to three was called "adequate," and greater than three was labeled "excitable."

Results from this experiment (Table) indicated that cows with an excitable temperament had a reduced pregnancy rate, calving rate and weaning rate compared to cows with an adequate temperament.

No differences were detected in calf weaning weight and age. Nevertheless, pounds of calf born and pounds of calf weaned per cow exposed at breeding were reduced in cows with an excitable temperament (Table).

Hence, results from this experiment indicated that B. taurus beef cows with excitable temperaments had impaired reproductive performance and overall productivity compared to cohorts with adequate temperaments.


Performance and reproductive parameters of B. taurus beef cows according to temperament


-Temperament type-






Number of head




Cow parameters




Pregnancy rate, %




Calving rate, %




Calf parameters




Calf weaning age, days




Calf weaning weight, lb.




Cow/calf production parameters




Pounds of calf born per cow exposed




Calf loss from birth to weaning, %




Weaning rate, %




Pounds of calf weaned per cow exposed





Acclimation to handling

One alternative to improve the temperament of cattle is to expose them to frequent human handling at young ages. Based on the positive outcomes of acclimation to human handling on reproductive development of B. indicus-influenced heifers (Cooke et al., 2009a), the same procedure was tested in weaned B. taurus cattle.

In this experiment (Cooke et al., 2012), 88 Angus x Hereford heifers (initially seven months of age) were evaluated for temperament (chute score and exit velocity) and assigned to receive or not receive (control) the acclimation treatment.

Acclimated heifers were processed through a handling facility three times weekly for four weeks (days 11-39 of the experiment), whereas control heifers remained undisturbed on pasture.

Blood samples were collected before (day 10) and after (day 40) the acclimation period and analyzed for cortisol concentrations, which is a hormone produced in response to stress conditions such as handling.

Heifer puberty status was assessed monthly during the experiment on days 10-200.

After the acclimation period, acclimated heifers had reduced cortisol concentrations compared with control heifers: 26.1 versus 32.8 ng/mL, respectively. No differences were detected for heifer average daily gain, which was 1.05 lb. per day for both treatments, but puberty attainment was hastened in acclimated heifers compared to the control (Figure 1).

Similar to the results obtained with B. indicus-influenced heifers, this experiment demonstrated that postweaning acclimation to human handling hastened puberty attainment of B. taurus heifers.


Feedlot performance

The majority of studies associating temperament and feedlot performance evaluated B. indicus breeds or B. taurus cattle that originated from herds reared in intensive operations. Hence, this experiment was conducted to evaluate the effect of temperament on feedlot performance and carcass traits of B. taurus feeder cattle that originated from a range cow/calf operation (Francisco et al., 2012).

A total of 260 Angus x Hereford calves were evaluated for temperament at weaning at approximately five months of age by chute score and exit velocity. Calf temperament was classified according to temperament score as adequate (less than or equal to three) or excitable (greater than three).

After weaning, calves were assigned to a 40-day preconditioning period, followed by growing (139 days) and finishing (117 days) phases until slaughter. A subset of 60 steer calves was selected for additional evaluation according to temperament, including stress-induced inflammation and average daily gain during a 30-day growing period.

Results from this experiment indicated that weaning bodyweight was reduced in excitable calves compared with adequate cohorts — 433 versus 449 lb., respectively — although age at weaning was similar between these groups: 152 days of age. No differences were detected for average daily gain during the preconditioning, growing and finishing phases; hence, calves with an excitable temperament had reduced hot carcass weight upon slaughter compared with calves with adequate temperament: 796 lb. versus 814 lb., respectively.

Within the subset of calves selected for additional evaluation, those with excitable temperaments had a heightened stress-induced inflammatory reaction (Figure 2) and reduced average daily gain compared with cohorts with adequate temperaments — 2.4 lb. versus 2.8 lb. per day of average daily gain, respectively — during the tested 30-day period.

Collectively, these results indicate that temperament also affects health and feedlot performance of B. taurus feeder cattle originating from a range cow/calf operation.

Temperament matters in cattle performance

Overall conclusions

Research from my group at the Burns center indicated that temperament influences reproductive, growth and health responses of B. taurus cattle. These results, in addition to those obtained with B. indicus-influenced cattle, suggest that cattle temperament affects critical parameters within beef production systems independently of breed type.

Therefore, using alternatives to improve the overall temperament of beef herds, including selection for this trait or acclimation of young females to human handling, are warranted to enhance the production efficiency of beef cattle systems.



Cooke, R.F., J.D. Arthington, D.B. Araujo and G.C. Lamb. 2009a. Effects of acclimation to human interaction on performance, temperament, physiological responses and pregnancy rates of Brahman-crossbred cows. J. Anim. Sci. 87:4125-4132.

Cooke, R.F., J.D. Arthington, B.R. Austin and J.V. Yelich. 2009b. Effects of acclimation to handling on performance, reproductive and physiological responses of Brahman-crossbred heifers. J. Anim. Sci. 87:3403-3412.

Cooke, R.F., D.W. Bohnert, B.I. Cappellozza, C.J. Mueller and T. DelCurto. 2012. Effects of temperament and acclimation to handling on reproductive performance of Bos taurus beef females. J. Anim. Sci. 90:3547-3555.

Cooke, R.F., D.W. Bohnert, M. Meneghetti, T.C. Losi and J.L.M. Vasconcelos. 2011. Effects of temperament on pregnancy rates to fixed-timed AI in Bos indicus beef cows. Livestock Sci. 142:108-113.

Francisco, C.L., R.F. Cooke, R.S. Marques, R.R. Mills and D.W. Bohnert. 2012. Effects of temperament and acclimation to handling on feedlot performance of Bos taurus feeder cattle originated from a rangeland-based cow/calf system. J. Anim. Sci. 90:5067-5077.

Volume:85 Issue:33

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.