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Journal of Animal Science - Animal Genetics

Temperament traits of beef calves measured under field conditions and their relationships to performance1

 

This article in JAS

  1. Vol. 88 No. 6, p. 1982-1989
     
    Received: Oct 13, 2008
    Accepted: Feb 02, 2010
    Published: December 4, 2014


    2 Corresponding author(s): shoppe@gwdg.de
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doi:10.2527/jas.2008-1557
  1. S. Hoppe 2,
  2. H. R. Brandt,
  3. S. König*,
  4. G. Erhardt and
  5. M. Gauly*
  1. Institute of Animal Breeding and Genetics, Georg August University, Albrecht Thaer Weg 3, 37075 Göttingen, Germany; and
    Department of Animal Breeding and Genetics, Justus Liebig University, Ludwigstraße 21b, 35390 Giessen, Germany

ABSTRACT

A total of 3,050 German Angus (Aberdeen Angus × German dual-purpose breeds), Charolais, Hereford, Limousin, and German Simmental calves were used to examine temperament traits of beef cattle using 2 different test procedures. The chute test and the flight-speed test have been validated in terms of routine on-farm applicability. Behavior tests were performed in 2006 and 2007 on 24 commercial beef cattle farms located in the northern and eastern part of Germany. A single, trained observer assigned subjective scores to characterize the behavior of each animal during restraint in the head gate (calm, restless shifting, squirming, vigorous movement, violent struggling) and when leaving the chute (walk, trot, run, jumping out of the chute). Breed was a significant source of variation in chute scores and flight-speed scores (P < 0.001). Charolais and Limousin cattle had the greatest scores in both traits, whereas Herefords had the least (P < 0.001) chute scores. German Angus and Hereford calves had the least (P < 0.001) flight-speeds, indicating that these breeds have a more favorable temperament. Temperament scores differed significantly between male and female calves (P < 0.01), with females scoring better for both traits. Average daily BW gains of the calves were significantly influenced by effects of breed (P < 0.001) and sex (P < 0.001) of the calves. Heritabilities were estimated for chute- and flight-speed scores of beef cattle. They were least for chute score and flight-speed score of Limousin cattle with values of 0.11. In contrast, greatest heritabilities were 0.33 for chute score and 0.36 for flight-speed score of Hereford cattle. Genetic correlations were estimated among both temperament traits, with values between 0.57 and 0.98. Chute scores and visual flight-speed scores were negatively correlated with daily BW gain of the calves in most breeds. The results presented in this paper indicate that on-farm evaluation of beef cattle temperament is possible, either using the chute test or the flight-speed test. Genetic selection seems to be promising to improve temperament traits of beef cattle without decreasing production traits like ADG of the calves.



INTRODUCTION

Beef cattle are usually kept under extensive rearing conditions, partially on pasture throughout the year and with a decreased labor input per animal (Le Neindre et al., 1998). Close human-animal interactions are restricted to veterinary care or routine management procedures and are associated with stress for the animals (Rushen et al., 1999). Due to the limited habituation to humans, negative behavioral responses of beef cattle are likely to happen more often during handling, strengthening the risk of injuries or increasing the workload for cattle handling (Le Neindre et al., 2002).

The behavioral response of beef cattle to human handling was chosen as an indicator for the temperament of an animal (Grandin, 1993; Burrow, 1997). It can vary from docility to aggression, with docility being preferred for farming conditions. Temperament can be quantified by scoring behavior in a standardized test situation (Tulloh, 1961; Burrow et al., 1988; Le Neindre et al., 1995; Hoppe et al., 2008).

Temperament differs among beef cattle breeds and sexes (Stricklin et al., 1980; Vanderwert et al., 1985; Gauly et al., 2001a,b). Temperament has been shown to be related to various aspects of animal production, such as daily BW gain, feed conversion, and beef quality (Fordyce et al., 1988; Voisinet et al., 1997; Colditz et al., 1999; Petherick et al., 2002; Nkrumah et al., 2007).

Heritabilities of temperament are small to moderate (Morris et al., 1994; Burrow and Corbet, 2000; Mathiak, 2002), indicating the possibility to include temperament in an overall breeding goal. The purpose of this study was to determine most relevant environmental factors affecting temperament of the most common beef cattle breeds in Germany. For the first time, the chute test and the flight-speed test have been validated in terms of routine on-farm applicability. Estimation of genetic (co)variance components among temperament and production traits was accomplished to generate a base for future selection strategies.


MATERIALS AND METHODS

All procedures used to test animals complied with animal welfare requirements.

Experimental Location

The present study was conducted in 2006 and 2007 on 24 commercial beef cattle farms located in the northern and eastern part of Germany. Completeness of performance and pedigree data was ensured by selecting beef cattle herds in cooperation with the responsible breeding associations.

Animals

Beef cattle used in this study originated from the following 5 beef cattle breeds: German Angus (Aberdeen Angus × German dual-purpose breeds), Charolais, Hereford, Limousin, and German Simmental. In total, 3,050 calves were tested at an average age of 233 ± 68 d (Table 1). An overview of the genetic structure within each breed is given in Table 2. Main differences between numbers of tested animals on the farms are presented in Table 3. The large range is due to some farms where only a part of the herd could be tested.

Table 1.

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Table 2.

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Table 3.

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Test Procedures

Temperament of calves was scored using the chute-test (modified from Tulloh, 1961). Chute scores reflect the behavior of the animal while restrained in the head gate, and were assigned immediately after fixation. Chute scores for all animals were given by the same observer, according to a 5-point system suggested by Grandin (1993): 1 = calm, no movement; 2 = restless, shifting; 3 = squirming, occasionally shaking of the chute; 4 = continuous vigorous movement, and shaking of the chute; 5 = rearing, twisting of the body, or violent struggling. Additionally, the same observer recorded the gait of the calves while leaving the chute, and a visual flight-speed score was assigned to each calf. According to Lanier and Grandin (2002), the flight-speed scores were 1 = walk; 2 = trot; 3 = run; and 4 = jumping out of the chute.

For each animal, the rank order of entrance into the chute was recorded. Because of different group sizes, the absolute rank order was transformed to a relative rank order using the following formula:

According to their relative rank order, animals were distributed in 5 different groups for rank order as follows: 1 = 1 to 20%; 2 = 21 to 40%; 3 = 41 to 60%; 4 = 61 to 80%; 5 = 81 to 100%.

During restraint in the chute, the BW of each animal was measured. Average daily BW gain of the calves was calculated for the time interval from birth to testing date, using birth-weight-corrected BW.

Statistical Analysis

An ANOVA to reveal the impact of environmental effects on traits was carried out with the software package (SAS Inst. Inc., Cary, NC) using the MIXED procedure. The temperament traits chute score and flight-speed score were analyzed using the following model:[1]with yijklmn = observed trait; µ = overall mean; Bi = fixed effect of breed; Sj = fixed effect of sex; Yk = fixed effect of year; Fl(Bi) = fixed effect of farm within breed; Gm = fixed effect of rank order group; bA = age of animal as linear regression; and eijklmn = random residual effect.

The following model [2] was used to analyze BW and ADG:[2]with yijklm = observed trait; µ = overall mean; Bi = fixed effect of breed; Sj = fixed effect of sex; Yk = fixed effect of year; Fl(Bi) = fixed effect of farm within breed; bA = age of animal as linear regression; and eijklm = random residual effect.

Estimation of genetic (co)variance components among chute score, flight-speed score, and ADG was done using a multivariate animal model for REML and applying the package VCE 4.0 (Neumeier and Groeneveld, 1998). This was done separately for each breed. Pedigrees were traced back for 3 generations. For genetic analysis, the statistical model for the 3 traits in matrix notation waswhere yi = vector of observations for the ith trait, bi = vector of the fixed effects for the ith trait, ai = vector of random genetic animal effects for the ith trait, ei = vector of random residual effects for the ith trait, and X and Z are the incidence matrices relating records to fixed and random effects. The fixed effects in the model were sex, farm, year, and the age of the animal.

The corresponding matrix of variances and covariances for random effects waswhere gij = the elements of G, the additive genetic variance and covariance matrix among the 3 traits for animal effects, A is the additive-genetic relationship matrix, and rij are the elements of R, the variance and covariance matrix for residual effects.


RESULTS

Breed differences were highly significant (P < 0.001) for chute scores and flight-speed scores (Table 4). Charolais and Limousin calves had the largest chute scores with values of 2.78 ± 0.06 and 2.95 ± 0.07, respectively. Intermediate chute scores were observed in German Angus and German Simmental cattle (Figure 1). Herefords had the smallest chute scores (2.05 ± 0.07). German Angus and Hereford calves had the slowest (P < 0.05) flight speeds, with values of 1.49 ± 0.05 and 1.46 ± 0.06, respectively. A continuous and significant increase (P < 0.05) in flight-speed scores was observed for German Simmental, Charolais, and Limousin cattle (Figure 2).

Table 4.

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Figure 1.
Figure 1.

Least squares means (±SE) for chute score by the effect of the breed. a,b; c,d; e,fP < 0.05.

 
Figure 2.
Figure 2.

Least squares means (±SE) for flight-speed score by the effect of the breed. a,b; c,dP < 0.05.

 

Temperament scores differed significantly between male and female calves (P < 0.01). Females had a chute score of 2.57 ± 0.03 and a flight-speed score of 1.69 ± 0.03. In contrast, male calves were scored 2.49 ± 0.03 and 1.58 ± 0.03 for both traits. Corresponding values within each breed are presented in Table 5. In 2006, the behavior of the animals was more agitated (P < 0.01) during handling compared with smaller scores in 2007 (Table 5). Only Hereford and Limousin cattle had reduced flight-speed scores in yr 2 of this trial. Both measurements of temperament were significantly influenced by the effect of farm within breed (P < 0.001).

Table 5.

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The subjective behavior scores of the animals during restraint in the head gate and when exiting the chute were positively associated with increases in the class relative rank order (P < 0.001). Calves having smaller scores for the relative rank order had smaller chute scores (P < 0.001) compared with animals of rank order groups 2 to 5 (Figure 3). Later entering of an animal in the weighing chute was associated with greater flight-speed scores (P < 0.005). Calves in group 5 for relative rank order had the greatest scores, indicating that they were more likely to run fast out of the chute if the front door was opened (Figure 4).

Figure 3.
Figure 3.

Least squares means (±SE) for chute score by groups for relative rank order. 1 = calm; 2 = restless, shifting; 3 = squirming, shaking of the chute; 4 = continuous vigorous movement; 5 = rearing, violent struggling. a,bP < 0.001.

 
Figure 4.
Figure 4.

Least squares means (±SE) for flight-speed score by groups for relative rank order. 1 = walk; 2 = trot; 3 = run; 4 = jumping out of chute. a,b; c,dP < 0.05.

 

Average daily BW gains of the calves were significantly influenced by effects of breed (P < 0.001) and sex (P < 0.001) of the calves (Table 6). Male calves had greater ADG within each breed compared with female calves. Greatest (P < 0.01) ADG were recorded for German Simmental cattle, with values of 1,231 and 1,092 g/d for male and female calves, respectively, followed by Charolais and Hereford cattle. Average daily BW gain was least for German Angus calves.

Table 6.

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Heritabilities were estimated for chute- and flight-speed scores of beef cattle. Estimates differed between 0.11 and 0.36 (Tables 7 and 8). Heritabilities of chute score and flight-speed score were least for Limousin cattle having values of 0.11. In contrast, greatest heritabilities were 0.33 for chute score and 0.36 for flight-speed score of Hereford cattle. Genetic correlations were estimated between both traits of temperament, with values between 0.57 and 0.98 (Table 9). Both chute score and visual flight-speed score were negatively correlated with ADG of the calves in most breeds (Table 9).

Table 7.

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Table 8.

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Table 9.

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DISCUSSION

In this study, German Angus and Hereford cattle received the smallest behavior scores in both temperament tests, indicating a calmer temperament of animals of these breeds compared with Charolais, Limousin, or German Simmental. Beneficial behavioral traits of British breeds were already observed in former studies (Vanderwert et al., 1985; Burrow and Corbet, 2000; Baszczak et al., 2006). Gauly et al. (2001a) found that German Angus cattle were easier to handle during a docility test than German Simmentals. Charolais and Limousin cattle seem to be more susceptible for stress during social isolation and close human-animal interaction, resulting in greater behavioral agitation during restraint and faster flight speeds when leaving the chute. The breeding history of Charolais and Limousin cattle may be an explanation for their excitable temperament. The traditional French rearing system with a strong habituation of cattle to humans could have masked underlying temperament traits preventing indirect selection processes (Grandin, 1994; Grandin et al., 1995). In contrast, Angus and Hereford cattle are traditionally reared under extensive pasture conditions with a minimum of human-animal interactions. This may have promoted an indirect selection of calm and docile animals, whereas very nervous and aggressive animals were culled. This is also true for German Angus cattle, developed in the 1950s by breeding Aberdeen Angus bulls to German dual-purpose breeds. Repeated mating of Aberdeen Angus bulls to the initial population of German Angus cows may have forwarded docility of the German Angus cattle of today.

Apart from the chute scores of Charolais cattle, female calves were scored better in both test situations compared with male calves from the same breed, although not all differences were significant. Based on these results, it could be assumed that at this age, male cattle have a more favorable temperament and are easier to handle than their female counterparts. This is in accordance with former studies observing greater behavioral agitation of female cattle during human handling (Stricklin et al., 1980; Voisinet et al., 1997; Gauly et al., 2001b). Temperament scores were greater in yr 2 of this trial. It is possible that different environmental influences like weather and resultant modifications of herd- and pasture management (e.g., frequent change of pasture and supplementary feeding) associated with habituation to human handling may have altered behavior of the animals. In addition, cattle used in this study were sired by different bulls, with some bulls having progeny only in 2006 or 2007. Le Neindre et al. (1995) studied docility of Limousin heifers sired by 34 bulls, with significant differences between progeny groups. Similar results were reported by Mathiak (2002) for temperament traits of German Angus and German Simmental cattle sired by different bulls. Relating to these results, sire effects may partially explain the effect of year in this study.

As expected, the influence of farm within each breed effect on temperament traits was highly significant, indicating that factors like prior experiences with human contact or handling, or herd and pasture management may have altered behavior patterns of the calves. Lanier et al. (2000) observed behavioral agitation of beef cattle during commercial auctions. They stated that it was not possible to control all the variables contributing to temperament differences. This may be the same for the impact of different management effects in this study, described in the model by the general farm effect.

The behavioral agitation of the animals during fixation in the chute and the flight speed were significantly influenced by the group of relative rank order, with calves of the first group having the least chute- and flight-speed scores. Calves that were easy to drive into the handling facility, or even passed it voluntarily, were more likely to remain calm and docile during restraint in the head gate. This finding confirms a former study by Tulloh (1961). Using Bos indicus crossbreds, Orihuela and Solano (1994) observed the relationship between order of entry and time spent to cover a distance of 20 m in a slaughterhouse. They found that animals at the beginning of each group of 5 to 7 cattle traversed the runway more quickly, indicating that they were easier to handle. In sheep, Syme and Elphick (1982) observed that vocal and stubborn animals moved at the back of the group during handling. Selecting calm and docile animals could therefore facilitate cattle handling, associated with reduced workload for routine management procedures. However, other factors may have contributed to the greater behavioral agitation of animals that were tested at the end of the whole group (e.g., they were separated from the herd for a long period of time; Grandin, 1980).

Body weight at testing date and ADG were significantly influenced by effects of breed and sex of the calves. This is in accordance with results of a former study using German Angus and Simmental cattle (Hoppe et al., 2008). Performance traits of the tested animals are representative for the population of each breed in Germany (Bundesverband Deutscher Fleischrinderzüchter, 2007).

Heritabilities estimated for both behavioral traits are small to moderate with significant differences between breeds. These estimates correspond with those reported earlier by Burrow and Corbet (2000). For repeated handling in a chute, Mathiak (2002) estimated heritabilities between 0.18 and 0.43 for German Angus and between 0.05 and 0.30 for German Simmental, respectively. Genetic correlations between both measurements of temperament differ between 0.57 in German Angus cattle and 0.98 in Limousin and German Simmental cattle. According to these results, it seems that chute test or observation of flight-speed measure the same aspects of temperament. In this experiment, beef cattle calves were exposed to social isolation from their herdmates, and close human contact during restraint in the chute, which have generated individual reactions of the calves to the test procedure. Both greater behavioral agitation during restraint and greater flight-speed scores indicate an attempt to escape in this restricted test situation. Therefore, it is possible to use both tests to evaluate cattle temperament. Heritability is generally greater for visual flight-speed scores in contrast to chute scores. Consequently, recording the gait of cattle exiting the chute may be a less subjective and more accurate measurement of temperament than the chute test. When applying the chute test, the observer assigns a score to the degree of agitation during restraint (Baker et al., 2003) associated with a highly subjective component. The negative genetic correlations between ADG and temperament scores suggest that less docile animals are less productive. Selection of beef cattle with desirable temperaments may lead to increased performance, resulting in both economic improvements of beef cattle production as well as labor efficiency due to improvements in behavior.

The results of this study show that the chute-test and flight-speed scoring are adequate tools to detect individual differences in beef cattle temperament under field conditions. In terms of the requirements for a good test procedure devised by Grignard et al. (2001) and Boivin and Trillat (2006), these tests are easy to perform on the farm. In addition, moderate heritabilities of both traits indicate sufficient repeatability. Furthermore, the chute test used in this study corresponds to routine handling situations representing current beef cattle husbandry conditions because many routine management tasks are performed in a chute. The integration of both tests in the routine weighing process at weaning prevents additional workload for cattle handling and further stress for the animals. Another advantage of visual flight-speed scores is that no further equipment is required as is the case in electronic measurement of the time interval for a fixed distance after leaving the weighing chute (Burrow et al., 1988). Electronic measurement of flight-speed is a more cost-intensive procedure, but an advantage is that these measures are more objective and recorded on a continuous scale yielding to greater heritabilities.

The results presented in this paper clearly point out that on-farm evaluation of beef cattle temperament is possible, either using the chute test or the flight-speed test. Genetic selection to improve temperament traits of beef cattle without decreasing production traits like ADG of the calves seems to be promising. Within Hereford, Limousin, and German Simmental cattle, a simultaneous improvement of temperament and performance can be expected.

 

References

Footnotes


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