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The relationships between temperament during routine handling tasks, weight gain and facial hair whorl position in frequently handled beef cattle

By G. Olmos, S. P. Turner

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A relationship has been described between facial hair whorl position and temperament in infrequently handled beef cattle when both traits were measured on categorical scales. Hair whorl position has also been found to relate to daily weight gain in dairy heifers. Using both a categorical scale and a modified approach in which hair whorl position was recorded as a more continuous variable, the relationship between whorl position and temperament in commercially relevant contexts was examined using frequently handed beef cattle (Bos taurus). The behaviour during restraint in a handling crush and flight speed upon exit from the crush were recorded for 76 steers and heifers (5 European crossbreeds) on 4 occasions. Temperament during restraint was recorded using both a subjective categorical score (crush score; 1-4 scale from calm to violent reaction) and, from videos, by the durations of behaviours pushing/pulling back against the bail of the crush, shaking, neck stretching, head swaying and head rising/lowering. Using still photographs, hair whorl position was recorded both categorically and as a continuous variable with respect to its position between the crown of the head and the nostrils. Weight gain was measured monthly during the 3 months of the study. Cattle with whorls located towards the top of the head on the categorical scale received a crush score indicative of greater restlessness (mean crush scores 2.70, 2.03, 2.16 and 2.11 S.E.D. 0.91, for high, middle, low and absent whorls, respectively, p<0.05). No significant relationship between hair whorl position on either scale and flight speed was found, indicating that the association between whorl position and temperament seems to be sensitive to the precise context in which temperament is measured and, in addition, we found no link with weight gain. The value of hair whorl position as a potential indicator trait in selection against flighty temperaments in frequently handled cattle therefore seems to be limited. The causative mechanism linking hair patterning and behavioural expression in apparently normally developed cattle is uncertain and should be understood before the use of hair whorls in selective breeding could be advocated.

Date 2008
Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 115
Issue 1/2
Pages 25-36
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/j.applanim.2008.05.001
Language English
Author Address Scottish Agricultural College, Sir Stephen Watson Building, Bush Estate, Penicuik, Midlothian EH26 0PH, UK.
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Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal behavior
  2. Animal genetics
  3. Automation
  4. Behavior and behavior mechanisms
  5. Breeding
  6. Bullocks
  7. Cattle
  8. Cleaning
  9. Dairy animals
  10. Face
  11. Flight
  12. Hair
  13. Handling
  14. Head
  15. Mammals
  16. peer-reviewed
  17. photography
  18. restraint
  19. Ruminants
  20. Selection
  21. temperament
  22. traits
  23. video recordings
  24. Weight
  1. peer-reviewed