Cattle respond to relaxed management

Style matters, even when managing livestock, according to Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists who have found that proper management of cattle helps to develop a calm herd — and leads to other benefits as well.

Recently retired animal scientist John Stuedemann and other researchers before him at ARS' J. Phil Campbell, Sr., Natural Resource Conservation Center in Watkinsville, Ga., have conducted forage research with their resident herd of Angus cattle that was first established in the 1950s.

The cattle are given “disposition scores” from finishing companies, in this case Tri-County Steer Carcass Futurity in Lewis, Iowa. Calves receive scores from 1 to 5 during each trip through the cattle chute. A score of 1 means the calf is especially docile, while a score of 5 indicates it’s extremely rambunctious. Most of the Watkinsville cattle scores range from 1.0 to 1.9, and most are below 1.5.

Stuedemann’s philosophy is that because the researchers handle them so much, it’s important for the animals to be as calm as possible. Any excitable or unstable cattle are removed to lessen the risk of injury to staffers, especially student workers.

Management methods have also been modified to keep the herd relaxed. Aids that were sometimes used to restrain or hurry cattle along were removed from the Watkinsville location a long time ago, according to Stuedemann. Cattle are more likely to go through the chutes calmly when pain is removed from the experience. This conditioning allows researchers to move the animals through the chutes for monthly weigh-ins without incident.

While calm cattle make life easier for those handling them, Tri-County also finds the health and average daily weight gain of the cattle to be excellent. In the five years of custom feeding with Tri-County, the approximately 800 head of steers and heifers posted average daily weight gains ranging from 3.1 to 4.6 pounds. Only 30 of the animals graded “Select,” while the rest graded “Choice” or better. A total of 381 head earned the “Certified Angus Beef” label.

Read more about the research in the May 2006 issue of Agricultural Research magazine, available online at: ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific research agency.

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