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Improving disposition on your cowherd

dun

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From BEEF COW CALF WEEKLY

Improving disposition on your cowherd
Apr 5, 2009 5:40 PM, Source: The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation; By: Clay Wright

Management guidelines towards improving cow temperment

A trait exhibited by a cow herd or individuals within a herd that saves time and money is referred to as a "convenience trait." Examples are polledness, parasite resistance, heat tolerance and calving ease. Docility is another good example. Think about all the time and money flighty, aggressive animals cost us at gathering, working, sorting, calving, etc. You know the ones - they keep things stirred up in the pen; they are inclined to jump out or tear out, hurt themselves, other animals or you! There are at least three factors that can contribute to a cow's bad attitude.

First, she learns flighty or aggressive behavior from her dam and other animals in the herd. How often have you heard, "Yeah, and her mother was just as crazy as she is!" In turn, she will teach poor behavior to her calves and other animals in the herd. Poor disposition is learned and taught, and passed down from generation to generation.

Second, it's in her genes. Disposition has moderately high heritability. Roughly 40 percent of an animal's craziness is explained by its genetics. This heritability estimate means that one can make fairly rapid progress toward a more docile herd through selection and culling. When choosing females and bulls, docility should be equal to any other criteria you may use.

Third, there is the human factor. In their guidelines, the Beef Improvement Federation (BIF) has suggested a six point scoring system to describe an animal's disposition with number one being docile and number six being very aggressive. Further, BIF suggests scoring animals at weaning or as yearlings to minimize the effects of prior handling experiences. That's because an animal's disposition can be strongly influenced by its human handlers, including any companion animals that may be used to help gather or work the cattle. A wise cowman once told me, "Gentle handling makes for gentle cattle. Aggressive handling begets crazy, wild-eyed, high-headed wenches." The impact of poor handling is significant and can create disposition problems where there otherwise would have been none.

To read the entire article, link to Clay Wright's Simmer Down Your Cowherd at the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation.
 

regolith

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The single biggest factor in improving disposition in my herd has been owning them.

I'm breeding for it (as of the incoming 2 yr olds next spring). But I have cows that I don't breed heifers from because they were wild when I bought them three years ago.
Now, I can do anything with them. I look at the row of crosses against their number on the breed list and wonder why they've been designated unsuitable.
Likewise, I've raised heifers from calves for the past five years. Until the first of them were two years old, I worked with the adage that you can "punish a cow, but gentle a heifer" because if you slap or shout at a heifer for misbehaviour while training her for milking I knew you could spoil her temperament for months or even years after.
Those two year olds, and every line of heifers since, has completely bucked that trend. Getting them to stand still in that stoopid herringbone - I could climb all over them, haul them around, chase the whole row back in when the end heifer turfed the holding bar aside and walked out - and they'd never fuss or hold-up their milk after the aggro.

I know other farmers who sent placid calves out to graze and the grazier returned heifers a year later that jumped everything (in one case, it was rotational grazing with electric fences that caused the problems. Instead of winding up the poly-wire fence or moving it aside to feed the heifers the grazier would drop the fence to the ground and expect the animals to jump/walk over it.)

I suspect there's been a much higher selection emphasis on docility in dairy breeds than beef breeds.
 

cfpinz

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I'll be improving the disposition in one group around 5am. That's when the high-headed b1tches in the lot are going on the trailer for the sale tomorrow.
 

SRBeef

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cfpinz":2zu4i5s3 said:
I'll be improving the disposition in one group around 5am. That's when the high-headed b1tches in the lot are going on the trailer for the sale tomorrow.

I treat my cattle all the same yet some have obviously more volatile dispositions than others. Having put together the beginnings of my herd from different sources, a couple of the Hereford cows I bought had been bred to a pretty highly regarded registered Angus bull. Now one of the Baldy heifers is as gentle as can be but proportionately more of the calves with any Angus in them have been flighty and a couple down right aggressive.

Likewise, one Hereford cow was always riling up the bunch and her Baldy calf was even worse.

Ok, some of these may have been roughly handled before I bought them but I doubt it knowing the private treaty sources. Even the ones that I have raised from birth and treated the same show markedly different levels of aggressiveness. This really shows up in my rotational grazing system where the animals are within arms length of me fairly often when changing paddocks or coming into the corral for a grain training treat.

While I am a strong believer in treating cattle gently, I am also discovering there are some animals that are by nature aggressive and I doubt that one could change that very much and even if you could is it worth the trouble and the effect they have on the rest of the herd? To me the answer is no way.

I am very much in agreement with cfpinz, the best way to improve the disposition of your herd is to ship any aggressive, herd-riling animals just as soon as you identify them. This is a cattle business not a psychological rehab center for ornery bovines. And it is safer and more fun to work with a herd of cattle with good dispositions.

In a smaller, closer managed herd I think it is important to get rid of the trouble makers ASAP.

In the larger western herds on large tracts they probably think this is nuts worrying about "disposition" but in my smaller herd it comes in as one of the "musts" for any animal. I am processing one baldy heifer next week along with the steers scheduled to go even though this heifer is just barely 12 months old. She is just a trouble maker and I sure don;t want to sell her to anyone else. jmho.
 

dun

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SRBeef":2it8k9t5 said:
In the larger western herds on large tracts they probably think this is nuts worrying about "disposition" but in my smaller herd it comes in as one of the "musts" for any animal. I am processing one baldy heifer next week along with the steers scheduled to go even though this heifer is just barely 12 months old. She is just a trouble maker and I sure don;t want to sell her to anyone else. jmho.

Even with range cattle, if they're the trouble makers that can;t be herded or worked they aren;t worth messing with. Sometimes it will take as long to pen a dozen as it does the other hundred plus.
 

I luv herfrds

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If they have a nasty attitude they are not worth the problems they cause.
Have a yearling in the pen right now that is heading down the road this spring. Head goes up and she heading across the corral as fast as she can and she gets the rest stirred up.
 

msscamp

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SRBeef":2x85scuo said:
I treat my cattle all the same yet some have obviously more volatile dispositions than others.

To play devil's advocate here, do you treat all people the same way? As with people, cattle have individual temperaments and one size does not fit all. That is not to say that you're wrong for culling based on temperament, just that it might not be needed with a little bit of 'personalizing' your handling - so to speak. I think there is a lot more to a cow than just her temperament, and that all of those things need to be taken into consideration before the decision is made to cull her. Just a little something to think about. :)

In the larger western herds on large tracts they probably think this is nuts worrying about "disposition" but in my smaller herd it comes in as one of the "musts" for any animal.

I think you're wrong on your assessment. I don't know what you consider to be a 'larger' herd, or large tracts of land, but we culled any animal that was outright dangerous very quickly. As far as the flightly, or high-headed ones were concerned - it was more a matter of how flighty/high-headed she was, under what circumstances that behaviour manifested, as well as what she had to contribute to the herd that was the deciding factor on whether she was culled or not. We had a few that had to be handled with kid gloves, but they were worth the extra time and trouble due to the calves that they produced, and their contribution to our program. Not all flighty/high headed cows produce flighty/high headed calves.
 

mnmtranching

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Disposition is BIG for me. An old guy working alone. I can walk every cow I own into the calving barn with my sorting stick. I save twice the replacement heifers I need and watch daily all Winter long, easy to tell the easy keepers the rest go to town. When I by bulls I always check them out before the sale or in their pasture, walk close by them and around them and observe their attitude.
If you don't have tame easy handling cattle, get rid of them and start over. :nod:
 

randiliana

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SRBeef":1423b6d2 said:
I treat my cattle all the same yet some have obviously more volatile dispositions than others. Having put together the beginnings of my herd from different sources, a couple of the Hereford cows I bought had been bred to a pretty highly regarded registered Angus bull. Now one of the Baldy heifers is as gentle as can be but proportionately more of the calves with any Angus in them have been flighty and a couple down right aggressive.

Likewise, one Hereford cow was always riling up the bunch and her Baldy calf was even worse.

Ok, some of these may have been roughly handled before I bought them but I doubt it knowing the private treaty sources. Even the ones that I have raised from birth and treated the same show markedly different levels of aggressiveness. This really shows up in my rotational grazing system where the animals are within arms length of me fairly often when changing paddocks or coming into the corral for a grain training treat.

While I am a strong believer in treating cattle gently, I am also discovering there are some animals that are by nature aggressive and I doubt that one could change that very much and even if you could is it worth the trouble and the effect they have on the rest of the herd? To me the answer is no way.

I am very much in agreement with cfpinz, the best way to improve the disposition of your herd is to ship any aggressive, herd-riling animals just as soon as you identify them. This is a cattle business not a psychological rehab center for ornery bovines. And it is safer and more fun to work with a herd of cattle with good dispositions.

In a smaller, closer managed herd I think it is important to get rid of the trouble makers ASAP.

In the larger western herds on large tracts they probably think this is nuts worrying about "disposition" but in my smaller herd it comes in as one of the "musts" for any animal. I am processing one baldy heifer next week along with the steers scheduled to go even though this heifer is just barely 12 months old. She is just a trouble maker and I sure don;t want to sell her to anyone else. jmho.

I like that statement :lol: It is pretty much the truth too.

Seriously, I won't stand for a wild, high headed or trouble making cow. We handle them on horse in the pastures and on foot in and around the corrals. All of our calving is done on foot. If we buy cows, we do give them a period to settle in, most do as soon as they adjust to the new environment, and as they blend into the herd. They learn from our existing cows that we aren't going to attack them.... All cows can have an attitude at times, but it is the ones that are always in the back corner with their head in the air that I won't stand for.

We have culled replacements out of our best cows on temprament. Not that the cow was terribly wild, but sometimes you get a calf that is simply nuts. Think we have one coming up again this year. You can kinda tell when you are tagging and weighing them, and they charge at you as soon as you walk up to them, before you have even done anything to them. It is kinda funny at that size, not so funny when they weigh 600 or 1200 lbs.

Temprament at calving is my #1 keep/cull reason. I will not tolerate a cow that won't let me handle her calf without me having to worry about my life. I'm not talking about sitting on the calf and tagging it, but at least walking up to it to see what sex it is. A lot of our work at calving time is done by one or the other of us, and it just isn't worth having a cow that wants to eat you if you get close to her calf. And, you know, those girls that let me handle their calf will still protect their calf from a dog or a coyote (the only predators we have). As a plus, I can handle a sick calf on pasture and even if he bellers, I don't have to be terribly concerned that one of the cows will jump on me either.

It depends on the rancher, some don't care, and some care a lot. Quiet cows have a tendancy to be better keepers than wild cows, they are easier on equipment, corrals and people when you do have to handle them. And there is nothing worse than gathering and having one cow break ranks at a critical moment and you lose the whole herd.
 

MoGal

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I agree with many, disposition is important and is a culling factor for me. We have one cow that raises an exceptionally nice calf but you must be watchful of her if you have to do anything with her calf the first 5 days after its born. I don't consider it a problem as many cows will be more protective of their newborn calf.

That's one of the reasons I like raising replacements from our own cows. They get used to our way of handling them.

However you can have the occasional circumstance that leaves you wondering what happened. We have one hubby raised and she's a 5 y/o. You can walk up to her anywhere in the pasture and usually scratch her head. She follows you around as well. Last fall, we moved them off one pasture and had to haul them so we put up gate panels in one corner and she got totally out of whack and managed to push up under the gate panel and it was 2 hours later before we could get her up and in the trailer. Something triggered her flight factor, so you can never trust a cow completely. I think the various posts telling of ones getting killed by their own cattle proves that. This cows very first calf was a complete idiot and I think it was a bad genetic cross and was the reason we didn't keep it. Her calf this year is half red poll and will probably be kept.
 

dun

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I like Jeannes deal: COD, Cull On Disposition
 

1982vett

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I luv herfrds":2r5y9jux said:
If they have a nasty attitude they are not worth the problems they cause.
Have a yearling in the pen right now that is heading down the road this spring. Head goes up and she heading across the corral as fast as she can and she gets the rest stirred up.
Due to the drought, I sold a bunch of good calf raising cows but real pain in the necks. Still have a couple more but trying to get that last calf out of them, plus since a little moisture came the need to sell isn't as critical.

But today, running them thru giving shots and pour-on, this one figures it's time to jump a gate, gets her leg hung. Well the gate finally gives and she gets free (but still in the lot). You got it tomorrow is sale day. Penned her up in a smaller pen, higher fence and watch her try to jump a few more times till she gives up. Got the trailer hooked up and backed to the chute, all the gates open for the sweep run down the stretch. More than she can take, she tries to jump one more time, this time she almost makes it, except for that one leg hung in the top two rails. 1400 pound cow is now hanging by a hoof from a 5 foot tall fence. Top rail is 3" channel iron, 9 inches below is 7/8ths sucker rod. Shot one yesterday from calving problems so shooting another today because she breaks her leg is really going to.........well you know. This is under a haybarn and shed so a cutting torch isn't a real good choice. I get the sawzall and a new blade and cut the sucker rod to free her. Guess my luck might be turning for the better because she pretty much shook it off. I decided not to push my luck any farther today. Ran her back with another groop heading toward another pasture with a better working facility.

Working cattle went so much smoother without the other crazy gals (till I got to this one) it was almost fun. You can bet her hamburger will be on the store shelves soon, along with a few others. I'm just not putting up with it anymore, no matter how good a calf they can raise.

:devil2: If it wasn't for the chance of her breaking her leg, I would have left her hanging longer just for meanness.:devil2:


But just the same, I had kept a baldy that was bred when we checked for open heifers last August. Really was hoping she was open because she had just enough "wild" in her that I figured she would be a pain. Basically she always kept her distance and I just sort of ignored her (keeping an eye on her in the process) and went about my business. For about the last month, I've been feeding square baled hay to the group of heifers she is with under a shed in a bunk. She has really calmed down and doesn't fret when I get to close anymore. She should have a calf within 30 days, so we will see what happens after that.
 

TheBullLady

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This week I've had a chance to appreciate the disposition of my cattle.. one of the cows got into the neighbor's herd somehow. His cattle run from the 4 wheeler, the mule, or someone on foot.. and I mean you can't get within 100 yards of them before they bolt. Now the owner has got to be 80 years old.. how the HECK does he handle these wild idiots? *sigh*... guess I'll go over in the morning and see if he can pen his. Luckily the cow that's out there was a show heifer, so she's halter broke. Otherwise I don't think I'd ever get her.
 

CattleHand

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TheBullLady":tqfgyih5 said:
This week I've had a chance to appreciate the disposition of my cattle.. one of the cows got into the neighbor's herd somehow. His cattle run from the 4 wheeler, the mule, or someone on foot.. and I mean you can't get within 100 yards of them before they bolt. Now the owner has got to be 80 years old.. how the HECK does he handle these wild idiots? *sigh*... guess I'll go over in the morning and see if he can pen his. Luckily the cow that's out there was a show heifer, so she's halter broke. Otherwise I don't think I'd ever get her.

I'd be willing to bet he can still handle them just fine, i would be curious to know.
 

linbul

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dun":2kkw7fjr said:
...That's because an animal's disposition can be strongly influenced by its human handlers, including any companion animals that may be used to help gather or work the cattle.

According to dogs, has anyone a observed which handling by dogs is more provoking aggresiveness in cattle? Healers or Collies are better in that way?
 

1982vett

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CattleHand":1nr1hojg said:
TheBullLady":1nr1hojg said:
This week I've had a chance to appreciate the disposition of my cattle.. one of the cows got into the neighbor's herd somehow. His cattle run from the 4 wheeler, the mule, or someone on foot.. and I mean you can't get within 100 yards of them before they bolt. Now the owner has got to be 80 years old.. how the HECK does he handle these wild idiots? *sigh*... guess I'll go over in the morning and see if he can pen his. Luckily the cow that's out there was a show heifer, so she's halter broke. Otherwise I don't think I'd ever get her.

I'd be willing to bet he can still handle them just fine, i would be curious to know.

Judging from my own, I'd say that if you were in a truck or on a tractor, they would have been fine about it.

My cattle are much the same way. A horse is about the worst thing that can come in my pastures. A gator is OK as long as it stays on the road, but once off the road they are gone. My own cows don't like me walking thru the pasture. They have always seen me get out of a truck or off a tractor. So just walking thru is not a normal situation.

Now those high-strung gals really get wound up when something out of the ordinary happens in their pastures.
 

lavacarancher

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Enjoyed your reprint, Dun. I couldn't agree more. I have been trying to cull the high headed witches for quite some time and I think I've just about got it done. Last fall I had one who was on the edge and she really showed her butt by taking out part of the corral (six feet tall, by the way) so in the trailer she went. Unfortunately, while she was busting down the corral she took one other really good cow with her and the good one broke her leg when she came down on the other side. Sure hated to put her down but she did make fairly good hamburger.

Most of my cattle will follow you like puppies if you've got a bucket of cubes. And they work pretty good in the pens. We'll see if I've got all of the crazy one's out of the herd in a couple of weeks when we start the spring work.
 

ScottyB

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I agree wild cattle are not worth the trouble. I bought an angus heifer 2 months ago at the sale barn for .40 cents a pound. (It was a very bad day to be selling heifers that day, there were a number of good calves go through for next to nothing.) Anyways, she was freaking crazy. Wouldn't go through the chutes and jumped though our headgates twice, before we finally got her. We have a calm and quiet herd and she got everyone acting crazy, even us. We were even yelling at each other. I decided right then I would give her two months and sale her back.
Well I sold that stupid heifer for .90 cents a pound last week. I got very lucky, but even that wasn't worth the trouble of putting up with her for two months and making our herd crazy. :devil2:
 

TexasBred

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You'll always have some idiots that need to be removed by I learned a long time ago that my disposition can be contagious to the cattle. I try to work them when it's cool, I'm calm and cool and feeling good myself. Seems to translate into an easy day of working cattle.
 

djinwa

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ScottyB":2h9cxnw5 said:
I agree wild cattle are not worth the trouble. I bought an angus heifer 2 months ago at the sale barn for .40 cents a pound. (It was a very bad day to be selling heifers that day, there were a number of good calves go through for next to nothing.) Anyways, she was freaking crazy. Wouldn't go through the chutes and jumped though our headgates twice, before we finally got her. We have a calm and quiet herd and she got everyone acting crazy, even us. We were even yelling at each other. I decided right then I would give her two months and sale her back.
Well I sold that stupid heifer for .90 cents a pound last week. I got very lucky, but even that wasn't worth the trouble of putting up with her for two months and making our herd crazy. :devil2:

Long ago I questioned how people can sell their nutty cattle at the salebarn. Seems everyone is just trading problems. I was assured that one can see the nutcases, so it's their fault if they buy one. So, how did this heifer act in the sale ring when you were buying her?
 

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