Department of Animal Sciences, Colorado State University, Fort Collins 80523-1171
Received July 29, 1999
Accepted January 6, 2000
J. Anim. Sci. 2000.78:1467-1474
1 The authors wish to acknowledge Phillip Chapman, Colorado Agric. Exp. Sta. statistician, for his assistance with statistical analysis.
2 Correspondence: phone: (970) 229-0703; fax: (970) 491-5326.
3 Dept. of Psychology, Colorado State University.
ABSTRACT: Casual observations indicated that some cattle are more sensitive to sudden movement or intermittent sound than other cattle. Six commercial livestock auctions in two states and a total of 1,636 cattle were observed to assess the relationship between breed, gender, and temperament score on the response to sudden, intermittent visual and sound stimuli, such as the ringman swinging his arm for a bid and the sound of him briefly yelling a bid. A 4-point temperament score was used to score each animal while it was in the ring. The scores used were 1) walks and(or) stands still, with slow, smooth body movements; 2) continuously walks or trots, and vigilant; 3) gait is faster than a trot (runs even a couple of steps), with fast, abrupt, jerky movements, and very vigilant; and 4) hits the ring fence, walls, partitions, or people with its head. Animals were observed for flinches, startle responses, or orientation toward sudden, intermittent sounds, motions, and tactile stimulation, such as being touched with a cane or plastic paddle. The cattle observed were mostly Bos taurus beef breeds and Holstein dairy cattle. Holsteins were more sound-sensitive (P = .02) and touch-sensitive (P < .01) than beef cattle. Sensitivity to sudden, intermittent stimuli (e.g., sound, motion, and touch) increased as temperament score (excitability) increased. Cattle with a temperament score of 1 were the least sensitive to sudden, intermittent movement and sound and those with a temperament score of 4 were the most sensitive (P < .01). This same relationship was sometimes observed for touch but was not statistically significant. Motion-sensitive cattle were more likely than nonsensitive cattle to score a temperament rating of 3 or 4 (P < .01). Steers and heifers were more motion-sensitive than the older bulls and cows (P = .03). Beef cattle urinated (P <.01, n = 1,581) and defecated (P < .01, n = 1,582) more often in the ring than did dairy cattle. Cattle that became agitated during handling in an auction ring were the individuals that were most likely to be startled by sudden, intermittent sounds and movements. Reactivity to sudden, intermittent stimuli may be an indicator of an excitable temperament.
Key Words: Cattle, Responses, Sounds, Temperament
Casual observations at auctions indicated that cattle in the auction ring are most likely to flinch and startle in response to sudden, intermittent stimuli such as a ringman waving his arm or yelling for a bid and children running near the ring. The purpose of the study was to determine whether the reaction of cattle to sudden, intermittent motions, sounds, and touch in an auction ring is related to their overall temperament. This could be useful to producers for temperament-testing cattle.
Prior to the collection of data, the observers practiced the recording of data at three different auctions (140 cattle). These data were used to refine methodology and were not included in the study. During the study, the first 10 animals observed at each new auction were used for practice and were not included in the analysis of data.
For example, a cow that was walking continuously around the ring with its head held slightly raised above its back would rate a 2. However, if the cow then attempted to climb out of the auction ring, the rating of 2 would be void and she would be recorded as an "escape" 4.
Movements related to startle response and not flight zone were recorded. To avoid being confounded by an animal reacting to a movement made directly in front of its face, motions that were close to the animal's face were not scored. All other occurrences of the above movements, touches, and sounds were scored. The observer must have been able to discern between an animal reacting to a movement that applies pressure to the flight zone and causes the animal to move away, and a movement that does not affect the flight zone and causes a startle response. Response of an animal to a stimulus was not used in determining the animal's temperament. For example, if the ringman touched a cow with a cane, and the cow jumped and flicked her ears, a temperament rating based on this response was not given.
Animals exposed to the above movements, sounds, and touches were scored. Animals were either scored as "yes," sensitive, or "no," not sensitive. Reactions of an animal to sudden environmental stimuli used to score an individual as "yes," included flinching, jumping, whole body quivers, and ear and (or) head orientation toward the stimulus. Only one of the criteria was needed in order for an animal to be scored as sensitive to sudden environmental stimuli. Reactions to motion, tactile stimulation, and combinations of auditory and visual (motion) stimulation were scored as discrete binomial variables.
Scoring of an animal's reactivity to sudden sounds, motion, or being touched was recorded for those animals for which the stimulus occurred while the animal was in the ring and the auctioneer was chanting. The first sound, motion, and touch detected by the observer were used for scoring sensitivity. Inter-observer reliability tests demonstrated that neither all behaviors nor reactions to all behaviors could be reliably observed and recorded, due to the speed of the auction. It was found that inter-observer reliability was very high (92%) if each observer recorded the first behavior that he or she observed, rather than attempting to record the first behavior that occurred.
If a sudden stimulus occurred while the auctioneer was silent, the response was not scored. This was done for consistency for the type of background noises all animals would receive, and to control variance. In addition, during the practice recording of cattle behavior in the auction ring, it was observed that the constant chant of the auctioneer appeared to separate out those cattle that had become accustomed to a low volume of noise and stress but that were actually reactive under extreme conditions. Reactivity to external stimuli was not used to determine temperament score.
Animals that urinated and(or) defecated in the auction ring were recorded as either "yes," they did, or "no," they did not.
|Temperament score||Intermittent motion||Intermittent sound||Sound and motion||Touch|
|Animal||Intermittent motion||Intermittent sound||Sound and motion||Touch|
|Holstein and beef-type cattle|
|Holstein cattle only|
|Beef-type cattle only|
The sounds that were most effective for eliciting a response were often accompanied with sudden movement (e.g., the ringman shouting while swinging an arm into a raised position). Stimuli that were most effective for eliciting a startle response were intermittent, high-pitched sounds and sudden movements. In rats, sound pulses of 3,000 to 7,000 Hz elicited less of a startle response than sound pulses of 15,000 to 23,000 Hz (Blaszczyk and Tajchert, 1997).
The intermittent stimuli chosen in our observations were based on observations made at the three different auctions used for practice. The stimuli chosen were the ones that were most effective for eliciting a startle reaction. We noticed that high-pitched, intermittent sounds of the ringman yelling "hey" or a young child yelling had a greater effect on the cattle than the amplified auctioneer's chant, gates slamming, or phones ringing. Waynert et al. (1999) found that sounds made by people while handling cattle had a greater effect on heart rate and reactivity than equipment sounds such as gates banging. Pajor et al. (1999) reported that shouting at cows was very aversive. Our own observations indicated that the constant sound of the auctioneer's chant did not directly elicit a startle response compared to sudden, intermittent stimuli. However, the background noise of the chant may sensitize the animal to intermittent stimuli. Research with rats shows that a constant background noise enhances an acoustic startle response (Schanbacker et al., 1996). High-pitched sounds have a greater effect on an animal's heart rate than low- pitched sounds (Tailing et al., 1996). High-pitched sounds with a rising pitch are used in dog training to signal an animal to do something. For example, a whistle signals an animal to come. A low-pitched sound is used to inhibit an activity (McConnell, 1990).
Talling et al. (1996) reported that piglets had increased heart rates when they were exposed to high- frequency and high-intensity (sound pressure) sounds, whereas piglets' movement was associated only with loudness. In another experiment (Talling et al., 1998), swine exposed to intermittent, sudden sounds were more reactive than when they were exposed to a constant sound. This study is of particular interest because it showed that intermittent sounds had a greater effect.
Cattle and horses have ears that are more sensitive than human ears. They are especially sensitive to high-frequency sounds (Heffner and Heffner, 1983; Grandin 1996; Smith, 1998). Therefore, noises that are a whisper to humans are quite audible to cattle. Trnka (1977) reported an inverse relationship between level of sound and abnormal behavior in dairy cattle. Noises in auction houses are diverse in frequency and source, so auction houses provide a good setting for observing cattle's reaction to intermittent sound.
The physiology of the eye and how that relates to instinctual behavior may explain the results found for reaction to a sudden motion. Prey species have visual adaptations for survival in the wild (Craig, 1981). In general, these adaptations are wide field of vision (especially while the head is lowered) (Prince, 1970; Coulter and Schmidt, 1993) and bulbous eyes on the side of the head. They also have slit-shaped pupils, whereas most predatory animals have round pupils (Smith, 1998). Grazing animals have a smaller binocular field of vision than predatory animals and a reduced ability to see objects above them compared to humans (Prince, 1970; Lynch et al., 1992). Prey animals have relatively weak eye muscles, which inhibits the ability to quickly focus on nearby objects; this may explain the tendency of horses to shy from nearby, sudden movement (Prince, 1970; Coulter and Schmidt, 1993). While grazing, the visual system of a prey animal has an increased ability to detect movement, which helps protect the animal from predators. The latest research indicates that cattle, sheep, and goats are dichromats with cones that are most sensitive to yellowish-green (552 to 555 nm) and blue-purple (444 to 445 nm) light (Jacobs et al., 1998). Dichromatic vision may provide an animal with better vision for detecting motion than full color vision (Pick et al., 1994; Miller and Murphy, 1995). LeDoux (1996) states that sudden movements have the greatest activating effect in the amygdala. The amygdala is a region in the brain that controls fearfulness (LeDoux, 1996; Rogan and LeDoux, 1996).
It is possible that motion-sensitive cattle are simply ineffective at visual search (Humphreys, 1996) and have a greater desire to orient to an object (e.g., the exit) than their conspecifics that are not motion-sensitive. Like horses, cattle may have the tendency to shy from sudden motion because of the morphology of their eyes.
There was no difference in temperament between single animals alone in the ring and cows with calves at their sides. It was not within the scope of this study to investigate the behavior of larger groups of animals. Grouped cattle tend to be less behaviorally agitated during routine handling (Ewbank, 1968; Grandin, 1987).
The differences found between genders were also expected. Voisinet et al. (1997b) found that heifers were more excitable than steers. Fleming and Luebke (1981) demonstrated that virgin female rats were more excitable than mature male rats. Hard and Hansen (1985) found that female rats became less fearful after parturition and the onset of lactation. This may explain why cows had lower temperament scores than heifers.
Predictions of cattle temperament in unfamiliar environments are becoming increasingly important in today's cattle industry. Animals that are calm and placid on their ranch may become agitated and stressed when they are confronted with a novel situation such as the fair grounds, feedlots, auctions, and slaughterhouses (Grandin, 1997; Grandin and Deesing, 1998). This is especially a problem in cattle that have an excitable, nervous temperament. Visual stimuli can disrupt handling (Grandin, 1996, 1980). Both cattle and deer orient and face a moving person in a field (Grandin and Deesing, 1998; Hodgett et al., 1998). On detection of motion, prey species visually orient to the source of the movement and watch until they determine that the stimulus is or is not a danger. After such a determination, the animal either returns to its previous activity or takes appropriate evasive action (B. J. Smith, personal communication, 1999). This reaction to visual stimuli can adversely affect smooth animal handling. For example, cattle that are going down an alley may balk at seeing a hat blowing in the wind. After the cattle have determined that the hat is not a danger, they will proceed calmly down the alley.
Temperament scores at some auctions were significantly higher (P <.05) than at other auctions. This may be due to differences in animal handling before the cattle entered the auction ring. No data regarding animal handling outside of the auction ring were collected. Electrical prods were used extensively and indiscriminately in the two auctions in which data were not collected. Use of electrical prods in this manner caused normally calm cattle to become agitated and aggressive and (or) to injure themselves during the auction. The relationship between overall behavior in the auction ring and reactivity to sudden, intermittent stimuli was significant in all six auction houses. The differences in animal handling between auctions may have had an effect on cattle temperament. Two auctions in Texas were excluded from the study because the extremely rough handling and excessive electrical prodding caused all animals that entered the auction ring to run (ring score of 3). All other auctions surveyed had a consistent percentage of animals in each ring score and therefore the effect of auction handling on temperament was thought to be minimal. No data on individual auction handling practices, other than brief notes, were collected.
A survey conducted by R. D. Green (unpublished data) found commercial cow/calf producers ranked disposition, after birth weight, as their second most important selection trait in bulls. Their top three reasons for desiring bulls with calm dispositions were 1) excitable bulls lose weight, 2) temperament is heritable, and 3) there is a high labor cost associated with wilder cattle. Producers know that calm handling of cattle (Stricklin and Kautz-Scanavy, 1984) and calm cattle (Burrow and Dillon, 1997; Voisinet et al., 1997a,b; Smith 1998) can increase productivity.
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