39 (and 5) Reasons to Manage for Calm Cattle


Darrell Busby of the Tri-County Steer Carcass Futurity talks about the monetary benefits of calm cattle.

For those of us who work in the livestock business, stories of injury are all too common. Often, the blame lies with the animal being managed. But, is there more that we can do to manage for quality disposition in cattle?

Darrell Busby of the Tri-County Steer Carcass Futurity (and former livestock specialist at Iowa State University) thinks so.

“Disposition is like all other traits — it’s heritable and then there’s a management component. It’s about 38-40% heritable.”

That leaves 60-62% of disposition up to the hand of management, meaning low-stress cattle handling techniques, and regular exposure to both people and machinery.

And the reasons to manage for (and cull for) calm cattle goes beyond handler safety.

Have you checked out our Beef Market Update with Anne Wasko?

Wild animals are harder to diagnose as ill, as they tend to keep their heads up and their ears alert when people or other perceived predators are near by. Calmer animals, on the other hand, may let their heads drop even when handlers are nearby.

Disposition, says Busby, is not a convenience trait, but rather an economically important trait.

“Calm calves gain better and they will grade better. That, all together, is worth about $39/head.”

At $1/reason, as far as we can reckon it, that’s 39 reasons to manage for calm cattle. But, we didn’t want to disappoint with a conclusion as simple as that. So here is a slightly more extensive list of reasons to keep calm animals:

  1. You don’t need a bison/elk handling facility to feel safe.
  2. Fence fixes are a result of animals scratching on them, not running through them.
  3. When asked if they could help process, the neighbours might stop responding with “we’re busy that day.”
  4. You don’t need a telescope to check the herd.
  5. Feeling a breath at the back of your neck doesn’t mean she’s outrunning you.


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