Assessing Temperament in Cattle Using Chute Score – New Learning Module
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Temperament is an animal's behavioral response to handling by humans, or to any potentially fearful situation. Since these reactions are often linked with stress, they have negative effects on production and profitability. Because of its impact on pregnancy rates, growth, meat quality, and safety, producers have been selecting for temperament for years, whether by design or inadvertently. However, to make noticeable improvements in the overall behavior of a herd, a clear and consistent method for evaluating temperament is needed.
Temperament in cattle is often evaluated using a chute score. Scores are assigned using a subjective scale that describes the movement, vocalization, and restlessness of an animal. A common six-point scoring system1 used is:
1. Docile: Mild disposition. Gentle and easily handled. Stands and moves slowly during processing. Undisturbed, settled, somewhat dull. Does not pull on head gate when in chute.
2. Slightly Restless: Generally docile but moves frequently and will not remain stationary for more than a few seconds; flicks tail occasionally, blows quietly through nostrils, may be stubborn but is otherwise docile.
3. Restless: Quieter than average but may be stubborn during processing. May try to back out of chute or pull back on head gate. Some flicking of tail.
4. Nervous: Typical temperament is manageable, but nervous and impatient. A moderate amount of struggling, movement, and tail flicking. Repeated pushing and pulling on head gate.
5. Flighty (Wild): Jumpy and out of control, quivers and struggles violently. May bellow and froth at the mouth. Continuous tail flicking. Defecates and urinates during processing.
6. Aggressive: Ranges from mildly aggressive behavior, fearfulness, extreme agitation, and continuous movement, which may include jumping and bellowing while in chute, to thrashing about or attacking wildly when confined in small, tight places. Pronounced attack behavior.
Use of a subjective method, like chute score, is beneficial because it does not require purchase or set up of any extra equipment. These scores also can be easily recorded during routine handling of cattle. However, their value depends on how reliably they can be assigned.
To assist the beef industry, a study was conducted to determine if training improves a person’s ability to assess temperament accurately and precisely with a chute score. The training used pre-recorded videos of cattle restrained in a chute.
Regardless of age, gender, or prior cattle experience, individuals initially were inaccurate in their assessments. When compared to a benchmark, they only assigned the correct chute score half the time. They also were imprecise. When watching the same video twice, they only assigned the same score 56% of the time. However, following a short training session, which included a detailed explanation of the scoring system, the accuracy and precision of the chute score assignments increased by more than 10%. Even producers with considerable prior cattle handling experience benefitted from the training.
To make these instructional materials more widely available, a new learning module dedicated to chute score has been added online to the UNL beef website. It includes the training video used during the study, along with additional example videos for viewing.
If interested in learning more about assessing chute score in cattle, or to view the training video, please visit https://beef.unl.edu/chute-scoring-beef-cattle
1The scoring system described within the module, while very similar, is that of Tulloh (1961) and is slightly different than that included in the BIF guidelines.