This article was originally published in the Wisconsin Agriculturist.
We often hear and see reports on how sickness or the use of technologies such as fly control, implants, ionophores, and others influence animal performance and profitability.
Low-stress cattle handling methods have been discussed and promoted for many years, but the influence on animal performance is not often part of those discussions. Some research has been done to investigate the influence that stockmanship has on disposition and animal performance and more is being done.
Good stockmanship and low-stress handling methods include utilizing the animals’ natural tendencies to the handlers’ advantage while working or handling cattle. It includes calm and quiet action and movements by the handlers, changing and remodeling equipment and facilities if there are problem areas that impede cattle flow, and acclimating the cattle to handlers prior to needing to move the cattle from their pens for routine management practices. It also involves establishing a positive culture on the farm operation for how animals are handled.
Cattle temperament can serve as an indicator of how cattle have been handled. Temperament has a reported heritability value of approximately 0.4 to 0.5, on a scale of 0.0 to 1.0, which indicates that environment (how they are handled) also has a strong influence.
Cattle that are handled using low-stress stockmanship practices have been observed to have improved rates of gain. Dewell et.al. (2019) observed that abruptly weaned feeder cattle that were acclimated and handled with low-stress practices during processing had an increased rate of gain of 2.92 lb/day vs 2.70 lb/day (P=0.01) for conventionally handled cattle from day 19 through day 95 after arrival and had 29 pounds (P=0.07) heavier hot carcass weights.
Woiwode et.al. (2016) in a trial comparing two different handling approaches to moving newly arrived cattle to the working facility observed cattle handled in a calm low-stress manner vocalized less during processing, exited the chute slower, and had higher rates of gain compared to cattle that were driven to the working facility in a highly excitable manner. They also observed improperly captured calves in the chute had lower rates of gain, higher exit speeds, and increased vocalization.
Reinhardt et.al (2009) evaluated the effect of disposition (temperament) of cattle on feedlot and carcass traits on over 20,000 head of cattle in the Tri-County Steer Futurity Program between 2002 and 2006. Cattle that were more excitable had a decreased initial and final weight, lower rate of gain, hot carcass weight, yield grade, quality grade, and marbling score (P<0.01). Table 1 provides some highlights of the effects of disposition score on feedlot performance and carcass traits of steers and heifers in the analysis.
Table 1.Effects of disposition score on feedlot performance and carcass traits.
|Number of head||10,740||3,707||875||3,721||1,578||475|
|Hot carcass wt (lb)||738||734||729||690||688||685|
|Quality Grades %|
|Upper 2/3 Choice||16.6||15.0||8.6||22.7||18.3||15.7|
|Lower 1/3 Choice||51.8||51.4||47.8||50.0||56.0||55.6|
|Yield Grade Calc.||2.82||2.75||2.58||2.88||2.83||2.71|
Reinhardt, Busby, & Corah
*Disposition scores were rated 1 to 6 each time cattle went through the chute, with 1 being very calm, walks out of the chute through 6 being extremely excitable, agitated, runs, and jumps when exiting the chute. Scores 3 and greater were grouped together for analysis.
Low stress cattle handling and good stockmanship practices can improve feedlot performance and carcass traits, help reduce cost of production, and increase revenue from higher quality carcasses. In addition, implementing these practices can also reduce risk of injury to both the handlers and the livestock resulting in further savings.
Dewell, R.D., S.T. Millman, R.L.Parsons, L.J. Sadler, T.H. Noffsinger, W.D. Busby, C.Wang, G.A. Dewell, “Clinical trial to assess the impact of acclimation and low-stress cattle handling on bovine respiratory disease and performance during the feedyard finishing phase”, The Bovine Practitioner, Spring 2019. 53(1) Pgs 71-80. https://doi.org/10.21423/bovine-vol53no1p71-80
Reinhardt, C.D., W.D. Busby, and L.R. Corah. “Relationships of various incoming cattle traits with feedlot performance and carcass traits”, Journal of Animal Science 2009. 87:3030-3042, doi:10.2527/jas.2008-1293
Woide, R., T. Grandin, B. Kirch, J. Paterson, “Effects of initial handling practices on behavior and average daily gain of fed steers”, International Journal of Livestock Production, March 2016, Vol 7(3), pp. 12-18, DOI: 10.5897/IJLP2015.0277
Reviewed by: Amanda Cauffman, Carolyn Ihde and Ryan Sterry, UW Extension Educators in Grant, Crawford/ Richland, and St. Croix Counties.