Agitated wild behaviour is persistent over time in exotic crossbred cattle

Applied Animal Behaviour Science, volume 36 (1993) pages 1-9

T. Grandin
Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado U.S.A.

Both previous experience and genetics affect the behaviour of cattle during handling in a squeeze chute. Fifty-three head of crossbred Gelbvieh X Simmental X Charolais bulls and 102 head of steers were obtained from a commercial ranch. They were restrained in a squeeze chute every 30 days for blood testing. The animals weighed 260 kg at the start of the study and they were housed in three feedlot pens. Handling was gentle and electric prods were seldom used. Each of the animal's head was restrained with a halter.

Out of four consecutive working sessions, five head (9%) of the bulls became extremely agitated every time they were restrained and bled. Out of three consecutive working sessions, six head (6%) of the steers were always agitated. Drawing blood from agitated animals was difficult. An animal received an agitated rating if he reared, twisted his body sideways or violently shook the squeeze chute.

A calm rating was given to animals that stood still or were slightly restless. In the bulls, 25 head (47%) were calm during all the handling sessions. In the steers, 78 head (76%) were always calm. Some of the animals had experienced rough handling at the ranch of origin when they were calves.

The implications of this study is that agitated behaviour is very persistent over time. It is likely that both experience and genetic factors contributed to persistent high agitation levels in certain individuals. Cattle which became agitated during restraint could not be distinguished from other cattle when they were in their feedlot pens.

The cattle were slaughtered in a high speed, 400-head-per-hour plant. They moved through a double-rail restrainer conveyor at a continuous slow walk and all individuals remained calm. The reduction in agitation at the slaughter plant may possibly be explained by constant physical contact between animals.

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