This experiment assessed the effects of different quality and quantity of handling and quality of the holding yard environment on the productivity and physiological parameters indicative of stress in beef cattle. 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 by flight speed (FS) and a fear of humans (FOH) test, which measured the proximity to a stimulus person (ZA), the closest approach to the person (CA) and the amount the cattle moved around the test arena (TT). Mid-way through backgrounding, the Minimal treatment group was heavier than the Good, which was heavier than the Poor (mean weights 207, 201 and 194 kg, respectively; P=0.05; LSD=5.4), but by the end of backgrounding there was no difference between treatments and treatment did not affect liveweight during lot-feeding. At the end of backgrounding, plasma cortisol levels were significantly lower (P<0.001) in the Good treatment group compared to the Poor and Minimal groups but at the end of lot-feeding there was no significant difference between the groups. Treatment affected plasma non-esterified fatty acid levels in backgrounding (P=0.060) and lot-feeding (P=0.046) with levels being higher in the Minimal than the Good and Poor groups (backgrounding: 0.52, 0.44 and 0.47 nmol/L, respectively; SE 0.02; lot-feeding: 0.46, 0.41 and 0.41 mmol/L, respectively; LSD=0.05). Significant weak to moderate (r-value <0.50) negative correlations were found between FS and average daily gain, but there were no consistent correlations between measures from the FOH test and productivity. FS and TT were weakly positively correlated with plasma L-lactate, glucose and cortisol levels, and CA was weakly to moderately negatively correlated with L-lactate and glucose levels. The results indicate that, whilst being imposed, the Good treatment reduced stress and the Poor treatment negatively impacted on liveweight gain. Minimal handling/yarding appeared to cause the cattle to experience stress, perhaps because of the relative novelty of being handled and confined. This work also confirms previous findings that cattle with high FS have poorer liveweight gains under both pasture and feedlot conditions and FS has some value as a predictor of productivity. Correlations also indicated that agitated cattle show a heightened arousal and stress responses when being handled. Fear of humans, as assessed by ZA, CA and TT, did not adversely affect productivity.
|Publication Title||Applied Animal Behaviour Science|
|Author Address||Cooperative Research Centre for Beef Genetic Technologies, New South Wales, Australia. firstname.lastname@example.org|
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