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Quality of handling and holding yard environment, and beef cattle temperament: 1. Relationships with flight speed and fear of humans

By J. C. Petherick, V. J. Doogan, R. G. Holroyd, P. Olsson, B. K. Venus

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Abstract

Numerous tests have been used to measure beef cattle temperament, but limited research has addressed the relationship between such tests and whether temperament can be modified. One-hundred-and-forty-four steers were given one of three human handling and yarding experiences on six occasions during a 12-month grazing period post-weaning (backgrounding): Good handling/yarding, Poor handling/yarding and Minimal handling/yarding. At the end of this phase the cattle were lot-fed for 78 days, with no handling/yarding treatments imposed, before being transported for commercial slaughter. Temperament was assessed at the start of the experiment, during backgrounding and lot-feeding by flight speed (FS) and a fear of humans test, which measured the proximity to a stimulus person (zone average; ZA), the closest approach to the person (CA) and the amount the cattle moved around the test arena (total transitions; TT). During backgrounding, FS decreased for all treatments and at the end of backgrounding there was no difference between them. The rate of decline, however, was greatest in the Good group, smallest in the Minimal group with the Poor intermediate. In contrast, ZA was affected by treatment, with a greater reduction for the Good group than the others (P=0.012). During lot-feeding, treatment did not affect FS, but all groups showed a decrease in ZA, with the greatest change in the Poor group, the least in the Good and the Minimal intermediate (P=0.052). CA was positively correlated with ZA (r=0.18 to 0.66) and negatively with TT (r=-0.180 to -0.659). FS was consistently correlated with TT only (r=0.17 to 0.49). These findings suggest that FS and TT measure a similar characteristic, as do ZA and CA, but that these characteristics are different from one another, indicating that temperament is not a unitary trait, but has different facets. FS and TT measure one facet that we suggest is general agitation, whilst ZA and CA measure fear of people. Thus, the cattle became less agitated during backgrounding, but the effect was not permanently influenced by the quantity and quality of handling/yarding. However, Good handling/yarding reduced fearfulness of people. Fear of people was also reduced during lot-feeding, probably as a consequence of frequent exposure to humans in a situation that was neutral or positive for the cattle.

Date 2009
Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 120
Issue 1/2
Pages 18-27
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/j.applanim.2009.05.008
Language English
Author Address Cooperative Research Centre for Beef Genetic Technologies, New South Wales, Australia. carol.petherick@dpi.qld.gov.au
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Tags
  1. Animal behavior
  2. Behavior and behavior mechanisms
  3. Bullocks
  4. Cattle
  5. Cleaning
  6. Fear
  7. Flight
  8. Grazing
  9. Handling
  10. Mammals
  11. Pasturing
  12. peer-reviewed
  13. Primates
  14. Ruminants
  15. temperament
  16. therapeutics
  17. therapy
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  1. peer-reviewed