Thanks to University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s BeefWatch, and Jamie Parham and Dr. Ronald M. Lewis, UNL Professor of Animal Breeding and Genomics for this article. Some edits were made to fit On Pasture’s style guide. We also added UNL chute behavior videos so you can test your skills.
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.
One method for evaluating temperament is to assign a score to an animal’s behavior when it’s in a chute. A chute score is a subjective scale that describes the movement, vocalization, and restlessness of an animal, like this six-point scoring system1:
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.
Value of Chute Scores Depends on the Skills of the Scorer
Scores are only valuable if they can be reliably assigned, and that’s not always the case. In fact, in the process of developing training videos for temperament scoring, we found that 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.
Fortunately 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 benefited from the training.
Now, Here’s Your Chance to Test Your Skills
These short videos show different chute behaviors. Write down your scores and then click here to see the answers.
Watch the Training Video
This training video describes the scoring system while showing it in action. It will help you sharpen your skills for your own herd.
Got good scores to report? Let us know in the comments below, or tell us how temperament affects the decisions you make about who stays in your herd and who leaves.