Scoring cattle exit speed from a squeeze chute with simple “walk,” “trot” or “run” scores may be a more sensitive indicator of temperament differences in beef cattle than traditional chute scoring.
That's according to a study by Jennifer Baszczak and other researchers at Colorado State University (CSU).
Previous research using electronic speed-measuring devices has shown exit speed was sometimes superior to chute scores. The disadvantage to this method, however, is that expensive fragile equipment is required.
In the CSU study, each animal exiting the squeeze chute was scored using horse gaits. The scores used were walk = 1, trot = 2, and run = 3. A total of 420 steers were temperament rated with both chute and exit scores while being handled in a hydraulic squeeze chute.
All cattle were handled very quietly. An electric prod was used only when animals refused to enter the squeeze chute. Quiet handling is essential to get accurate temperament scores.
There were three cattle breed types used: British type — mostly Hereford x Angus; Brahman cross; and Continental type — mostly Charolais crosses.
Temperament in the squeeze chute was rated with a four-point scale with four movement ratings. “Calm” (0-1 shake) is 1; “restless” (two shakes) is 2; “moderate” (three or more shakes) is 3; and violent struggling or rearing is 4.
The results showed no significant differences between breed types for chute scores, but exit scores were highly significant. British type cattle were more likely to exit at a walk compared to the other two types. British cattle had an average score of 1.50, while Brahman crosses were 2.06.
Simple walk, trot, and run exit gait scoring will be a useful tool for ranchers. It should be added to the chute-scoring systems already in use by some breed associations.
While cattle with calm temperament have better weight gains, it's probably not a good idea to over-select for calmness because that may reduce other desirable traits. Reports from ranches suggests over-selecting for calmness may have bad effects on mothering or foraging.
The best approach is to cull the “berserk” cows that rate 4 in the chute. Cattle that run over people and break fences and gates should also be culled. The principle is eliminating the “crazy” cows rather than selecting for the most calm cows.
Temple Grandin is a Colorado State University associate professor of animal science and a livestock industry consultant on facility design, livestock handling and animal welfare. View her site at www.grandin.com.