Disposition Tempers Feedlot Profitability

By : This article was written by Jim Krantz, former SDSU Extension Cow/Calf Field Specialist. Courtesy of iGrow.org


As cattlemen and feedlot operators target increased levels of performance, efficiency and quality that enables them to compete in a global marketplace, these same production goals may blind them from a lurking cattle trait that negatively affects them.  Cattle disposition may be one roadblock to obtaining additional profitability within cattle production systems.

Feedlot cattle with aggressive dispositions when compared to docile calves in the same feeding program generated reduced gains of approximately 0.3 lb/day while doubling the mortality rate according to research studies conducted at Iowa State University.  When combined with inferior quality grades and increased treatment costs, aggressive cattle returned over $60/head less than those cattle in the same study labeled as docile.

Almost 50,000 cattle were involved in the study bridging over eight years and involving management systems in 18 Iowa feedlots.  Calves were scored three or four times during the duration of the feeding period. Value differences for aggressive versus docile cattle are well documented beyond the feedlot.  Toughness of the meat cuts and dark cutter characteristics are two documented affects of an acceptable eating experience for consumers.  Studies have shown a significant relationship between these two characteristics and animal behavior.

Aggressive cattle had carcasses that exceeded the food industry’s acceptable level for tenderness 40% of the time compared to docile penmates at 13.7%.  Dark cutter labeling was evident 25% of the time in aggressive cattle carcasses while only 6.7% in the docile cattle.

Disposition is a moderately heritable trait.  Consequently, cattlemen have the ability to improve the level of disposition within their herd through selection pressure.  In addition, a renewed industry focus on animal welfare, the recognized merits of improved livestock handling techniques, an expanded understanding of animal behavior patterns and improved handling facilities can temper the dispositions of those cattle labeled aggressive.

Understanding the potential negative impact of cattle disposition on feedlot performance, carcass quality, and consumer acceptance provides an incentive for all cattlemen to utilize genetic selection, improved handling techniques and facilities and an awareness of animal welfare concerns to improve cattle disposition within the industry.  Not only will these adjustments provide additional profitability, a safer working environment for cattle handlers and the cattle themselves is inevitable.

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