BEEF Daily

What Is Disposition Worth?

Are calm cattle worth more, in your opinion?

If you’re shopping for a herd sire this spring, there are certainly many factors to consider -- growth, calving ease, carcass traits, genomics, rate of gain, lineage, etc. Depending on your breeding strategy or needs, some traits are worth more than others; however, I believe there is one trait that is worth its weight in gold, and that’s disposition.

The average age of the rancher is 58 years old and, as a result, many producers may not be as spry as they used to be when it comes to avoiding ornery cows or over-protective mamas. This can result in injuries, some even life-threatening.

For example, a few years ago, a rancher from South Dakota tried to tag a newborn calf next to his four-wheeler; hours later, his daughter found him pinned down by the cow. He suffered severe head trauma and was in an extended coma.

While this is a severe case, injuries around livestock aren’t uncommon. It should make us all pause and think about which of our own cows should be culled for temperament issues. As my grandma so aptly puts it, the best thing you can do for a wild or mean cow is to “put wheels under her.”


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In our operation, my dad has had no choice but to cull heavily for bad dispositions. With a wife and three daughters as his main chore help, we were very quick to put mean cows on our cull list if they caused us any trouble. Aside from selecting for good docility, I believe temperaments can be improved through regular handling and management, as well. 

Temperament has been a big priority in our breeding program over the years, and I love working around our calm cattle. It makes for a stress-free working environment when you don't have to constantly worry about flighty and mean cattle. However, there’s always room for continued improvement.

How big of a priority is disposition in your breeding and purchasing decisions? How long will you tolerate a mean cow in your operation? How easy are your cattle to work with during calving season? What steps do you take to calm cattle with poorer dispositions? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.


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Discuss this Blog Entry 14

Terry H (not verified)
on Feb 24, 2014

I agree with the point of your article 100%. The best EPD's in the world mean nothing if you have wild and unruly stock. When I select sires to use in our A.I. Program I look at birth numbers and growth but if their docility score is low they aren't considered. The same goes for bull and heifer selection. No matter what, if their temperament is unsatisfactory, they are culled. Life is too precious and the cattle business to enjoyable to be ruined by an ornery critter.

John S. (not verified)
on Feb 24, 2014

We completely agree with you sentiment on hard to handle cattle. If she has a high head or makes fight in the seperation pins she goes to market. We just seperated our keeping heifers from market heifers and one of the best looking heifers was sold because she would raise here head above the rest and when hand sorting them she made fight at one of us as she went around. We look for the calm good mothering instinct in our heifers. Yesterday we had a first calf heifer having trouble calving in the pature. We gave her a few hours to see if she could do it on her own but it was not going to happen. My dad and got her up and walked her about 500 yards to the barn where she very calmly walked in the pin and with a grass string and slight tug she had a new bull calf. We did not have to put her in a chute to hold her just a small 10' X10' pin and she let us help her. This is the way we want all our cattle to be. Sometimes it means culling a good cow that raises a good calf but its not worth having one to run over you in the sorting pin.

P. Slater (not verified)
on Feb 24, 2014

I have said this for years, and when I finally said those cows go or I am not helping with chores. They left and now I can help any cow without looking over my shoulder.

on Feb 24, 2014

Disposition is vital in our herd. We cannot afford to be hurt or injured by a mad momma cow-now that being said, we don't "put wheels under" all of them that show aggressive tendencies-just the recurring offenders and the ones that are high-headed all the time. We respect the maternal protectiveness of a new momma-especially when we have predators close to where we calve.

n karpis (not verified)
on Feb 24, 2014

I have a good buck knife , any bull calve is never good enough with a bad disposition . ihave cows get by because the will usualy take better care of their calves

M. Sims (not verified)
on Feb 24, 2014

We cull heavily on disposition. I had an incident where I was tagging a heifer's calf and without warning she plowed her face into mine (I wasn't very pretty for a few weeks!). We then noticed a trend of daughters from a specific bull tending to be nasty (trying to run us over, fighting their calf off, and even going to the extreme of killing calves). As beautiful as they were and even raising amazing calves they got the note to ship if they caused trouble. With only 2 full time and 2 part time people we can't afford for anyone to get hurt. Plus, if a wild cow takes off with her calf in tow, how many pounds of gain is that costing?

Meamber (not verified)
on Feb 24, 2014

I cull those high-headed cows also, bulls too. My question is, are wolves getting into that S. Dakota region mentioned where the man was pinned by the cow? All the cows might become like that where the herd becomes flighty from the wolf attacks. Or else the calves are killed and eaten by the predators, so fewer to catch and tag.

W.E. (not verified)
on Feb 24, 2014

Good disposition is high priority in here, where the main cow hand for much of the year is also female. Using management-intensive grazing also helps. The calves learn before weaning to follow along beside their mothers when called to new pasture, and they learn to trust human beings from the get-go as providers of good grazing in fresh forage. Tagging baby calves is never an ordeal, because if the occasional heifer is flighty or hard to handle, she is gone before she has a chance to calve. In our herd, which has a nearly fifty year history, quiet-tempered cattle have also proven themselves to produce more tender beef. Easy-handling cows tend to be more fertile at an early age and are generally more productive over the long haul, partly because they are smarter grazers. A flighty cow that spends much of her time running away is usually too nervous to be easy-doing on grass, so "putting wheels under her" makes for better beef, better profitability, greater safety and peace of mind. Our cattle are Hereford, and bulls from our herd are well-known for great dispositions and ease of handling.

Cynthia Nelson (not verified)
on Feb 24, 2014

Yes! Calm cattle are a must in our operation. We are in the mist of calving out 435 cows and 154 heifers now and yesterday was a great example of breeding docile cattle. Had to pull a first calf heifer. Had her in our little barn in a 10x10 area, we noticed she needed some help, the feet were out and looked big. She was lying by one of the panels and my husband just went behind her calmly and put the chains on the feet, and she let him pull the calf out, the head was just alittle stuck. Never had to put her behind our calving chute panels at all. The calf was fine. Most of our heifers are that docile. That is what we breed for!! Like everyone else, we can't afford to get hurt!!

Anonymous from MO (not verified)
on Feb 24, 2014

I agree with those that say no matter how "good" a cow is, they are not worth getting severely hurt or killed.
Every time we work cattle I make a note of those with disposition issues. They are the next to go.
We have bred for docility for years, and are very happy with our Gelbvieh-Polled Hereford "red balancers." I've had to help two heifers with calving this week... the one that had the calf with the leg back let me come up to her, push the calf back in and straighten everything out with out a rope or anything. The other had a calf with hip lock...again we just walked right up to her, turned the calf and popped it right out while the heifer just stood there.
Give me docility any day!

Caleb (not verified)
on Feb 24, 2014

When I buy feeders from the sale barn each year this is the one main thing I am looking at. I dont need a calf chasing me all around the corral or pasture when I am trying to check fence or feed. It is always hard to look for this in a sale ring but have always had good luck.

I have family that feeds/checks on calves when I have prior engagements, detasseling, harvest, etc and I dont need one of them getting hurt for just helping me out for a week or so.

Good article that many cattlemen should read and think about.

T. Lackey (not verified)
on Feb 25, 2014

A cow will not make enough profit in her lifetime to pay for a hospital stay.

on Feb 26, 2014

Amen to this comment. The best way to wrap up my sentiments on docility in one sentence.

TexasLadyinCA (not verified)
on Mar 18, 2014

Someone I knew once said, "If a cow can't tell the difference between me and a predator, I can't tell the difference between her and a McDonald's hamburger." I thought it was right on! When I decided we couldn't keep dangerous beef was when my husband went into the hospital for another reason. It cost $35,000. From that point on, I look at every cow and think, "if I can't sell you for $35,000 (to cover a hospital stay) and you're dangerous, you have to go." I can't afford to pay a hospital bill (or a lawsuit from an employee) for a crazy animal. I can't afford to find someone else to work at our place while any one of our family or workers is in the hospital and can't help on the farm. And anyway, how valuable is that calf when it could turn out like mama? We have been breeding Angus for years. We breed our cows AI every year and follow up with the bull. If an AI sire does not have a good epd for disposition, he isn't chosen. That five pounds of extra grow (or even if it was 500 extra pounds) isn't worth it to end up in the hospital. There are many other sires to choose from, and we avoid bad disposition. We purchased a crazy cow that we ended up taking to the sale barn. I mentioned who the seller was, and the auction folks told me that it was not uncommon that his cattle were bad dispositioned. Who needs that reputation? Who needs the fear of cattle that you spent good money to purchase?

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BEEF Daily Blog is produced by rancher Amanda Radke, one of the U.S. beef industry’s top social media “agvocates.”


Amanda Radke

Amanda Radke is a fifth generation rancher from Mitchell, S.D., who has dedicated her career to serving as a voice for the nation’s beef producers. A 2009 graduate of South Dakota State...

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