All breeds have bloodlines known to be nervous.There's no doubt that calmer cattle are more desirable than nervous ones. They're easier to handle and safer to be around. They're also associated with higher gains in the feedlot and more desirable meat quality.

If you're a commercial cattle producer who has concerns about disposition and how the Limousin breed has addressed it, read on.

No other breed has made greater strides toward improving docility than Limousin. Thanks to the diligence of Limousin breeders across the country, not only do New Century Limousin have superior muscle and unmatched yield and efficiency, they're calmer now than ever before.

A little over a decade ago, Limousin breeders identified improving disposition as the number-one breed priority. Limousin breeders took their mission to improve this trait seriously. First, the North American Limousin Foundation developed a temperament scoring system. Then, the breed developed the industry's first temperament or docility (DOC) EPD.

Using docility EPDs to drive selection and cull problem animals, Limousin breeders put strong selection pressure on disposition and made remarkable gains to improve docility. Rapid genetic progress was possible given the strong heritability of .40, estimated for the Limousin breed.

By today's count, Limousin breeders have collected docility scores on nearly 160,000 animals. Scores range from 1 to 6, where 1 represents the calmest, most docile temperament and 6 the most aggressive. Table 1 explains the scoring system in more detail and also gives the distribution of scores across the breed. Further analysis of the Limousin docility database has shown a marked increase in the proportion of calm animals (scored as 1 or 2) over the past decade - from 75% in 1994 to 90% in 2004.

Docility scores are used to compute docility EPDs. Docility EPDs indicate genetic differences in the likelihood that offspring will inherit genes for calm, acceptable behavior. The higher the EPD, the greater the opportunity of producing calm progeny. On the flip side, the lower the EPD, the more nervous the expected behavior. As an example, consider the following two sires of comparable accuracy and their docility EPDs:

Docility (DOC)EPD
Sire A +25%
Sire B +5%
Difference +20%

When sire A and sire B are mated to similar sets of females, we would expect sire A to have a 20 percent (the difference between +25 and +5 percent) greater chance of producing calm progeny than sire B. Said a little differently, we'd expect 20 percent more of sire A's progeny to be calm than sire B's progeny.

Just like EPDs for other traits, docility EPDs can be used to rank animals. Table 2 gives some information as to where animals rank genetically in the Limousin breed according to their docility EPD.

In the Spring 2005 Limousin genetic evaluation, docility EPDs range from -22 to +42, with +12 representing the average of active sires.

Accuracy values associated with docility (DOC) EPDs range from “P”, which stands for pedigree estimate (calculated by averaging the EPDs of the parents) to a high accuracy of .99. The higher the accuracy, the more individual or progeny data gathered, and the greater the reliability of the EPD. Commercial cattle producers may want to check accuracy values for docility EPDs of sires of young bulls they purchase to assure the prospective sire is from a proven pedigree for calm behavior. All EPD and pedigree information may be accessed free of charge, 24/7 using the EPD lookup tool at www.nalf.org.

Limousin breeders have been using docility EPDs since 1998, when the first genetic evaluation for docility was published. By placing a strong emphasis on selection for calmer cattle in their breeding programs, they have dramatically improved the temperament of Limousin cattle in the last seven years.

Take a look at Figure 1, which shows the genetic trend in docility as measured by average docility EPD for Limousin cattle born from 1980 through 2004. The graph shows that cattle born in 1990 have an average docility EPD of about +1, but those born in 2004 average +13. That's an increase of about +12 in 14 years, almost +1 per year, which is quite remarkable given that tools for genetically improving temperament have only been around since 1998.

Even with this success, Limousin breeders continue to collect docility scores and select even more stringently for calm, acceptable behavior. They are committed to the commercial segment of the beef industry — providing quality genetics to commercial users of Limousin cattle.