Those high-strung, ringy stocker calves are lousy performers. Both experience and research attest to it.

For example, according to Justin Rhinehart, former Mississippi State University (MSU) Extension stocker specialist and now a University of Tennessee Extension beef cattle specialist, “A trial by Colorado State University researchers showed that feedlot cattle with the most calm temperaments gained 0.41 lb./day more than the cattle in that trial with the most excitable temperaments. Many other studies support the notion that calm cattle gain more rapidly and efficiently on grass and in the feedlot.” He was writing in an MSU Stocker Cents article last year.

Cattle immunity and health performance is negatively impacted by poor temperament, too. Rhinehart explains, “The 2004 Mississippi Farm to Feedlot data showed that cattle assigned a pen score of 2 and 3 (calm temperament) had lower health-treatment costs during feeding compared with cattle assigned a pen score of 4 and 5 (excitable temperament). The group of MSU and Texas A&M scientists showed that antibody response to clostridial vaccinations lasted longer in calm calves than in temperamental calves. So, the decreased health performance of flighty calves is probably due to poor immune system response to vaccinations.”

That’s the impetus of more stocker operators spending more time utilizing the tenets of quieter cattle handling methods. In other words, you can’t necessarily choose the disposition of the calves received, but are in complete control of how those cattle are handled once they arrive.

“Most technology requires additional monetary investment,” says Ron Gill, Texas AgriLife Extension Service livestock specialist. “Improving your livestock handling skills requires no additional inputs other than time and commitment.” He was a presenter at the recent International Beef Cattle Welfare Symposium. Along with Curt Pate and Todd McCartney, Gill also began offering their innovative Stockmanship and Stewardship Seminar series in 2008. The National Beef Quality Assurance program and seven corporations sponsor live demonstrations of this series across the nation (www.effectivestockmanship.com).

Gill explained effective stockmanship revolves around five basics of cattle behavior:

  • Cattle want to see you.
  • Cattle want to go around you.
  • Cattle want to be with and go to other cattle.
  • Cattle think of only one thing at a time.
  • Cattle want to move away from pressure exerted on them.
“It all boils down to placement of the handler in relation to the cattle and getting cattle to respond the way you want with the correct amount of pressure,” Gill says. You can find basics and insights in the Texas AgriLife Extension publication, "Cattle Handling Pointers".

Gill explains most people are pretty good at getting cattle into the corral. No one would get any cattle work done otherwise. “It’s when the gate closes that it all tends to go downhill,” he says.

That trip downhill grows exponentially with the number of cattle predisposed to flightiness and/or improper handling. As Rhinehart points out, “The negative effect of excitable temperament is not limited to the individual flighty animal. More recent unpublished data for the MSU Brown Loam experiment station shows that pairing an excitable calf with a calm calf during grazing studies makes the calm calf become more excitable.”

Bottom line, Gill says, “With effective stockmanship, we can do it quicker and with less labor. We can get our money back by increasing gain or decreasing shrink, however you want to look at it, without additional inputs.”