In every beef herd, there seems to be a few cows that are just ill-tempered and wild. The owners say “Doc, she is crazy, but she always raises a good calf.” There have been several studies looking at the temperament of cows and profitability. Fall is the time you typically look at spring-calving beef herds to determine which cows to keep and which cows to cull. Temperament should be one of the characteristics involved in that decision. University of Florida scientists recorded disposition scores over two years on almost 400 crossbred cows and evaluated the probability of becoming pregnant in the 90 day natural breeding season. The cows were scored on a scale from calm to violent in the working chute and how fast they exited the chute. Cortisol levels were also checked. Cortisol is a hormone that is increased when cows are stressed or excited. Increased cortisol has been shown to decrease the possibility of pregnancy. Cows with high levels of cortisol have decreased reproductive function.
Mississippi State also performed a study similar to the one at University of Florida using feeder calves. They found that as aggression and excitement increased, the cost of treating these calves for health conditions increased. Average daily gain and the calves’ weight decreased. Excitable animals have also been shown to have a reduced response to vaccinations. As excitability increased, profit per head decreased significantly. The calmest calves had a profit per head of $121 while the most excitable calves had a profit per head of only $80, or a 30% decrease. Behavior is somewhat hereditary so selecting against cattle with poor temperament will eventually result in a calmer herd and increased profit.