One of the traits that beef producers place a high level of importance on when making selection decisions, if not the most important trait, is temperament.
This significance was highlighted in a recent survey of over 1200 beef producers across Australia which found temperament was the most important trait when selecting a bull.
The temperament of an animal has a big impact on its value within a beef operation and when we talk about temperament we are talking about the way animals behave when being confined or exposed to usual situations (e.g. being separated from the herd). The benefits of a superior temperament in cattle are well understood and include:
For seedstock producers’ temperament is of particular importance due to the significant impact it has on the profitability of their clients’ operations. Importantly temperament is highly heritable and lacks any known antagonistic genetic relationships, meaning we can make improvements in temperament without impacting negatively on other traits within the breeding objective.
Beef producers aiming to improve the genetics of their herd for temperament can achieve this through the implementation of two main selection strategies; culling for poor temperament and selection of sires with superior temperament genetics.
1) Culling for Poor Temperament
It is common practice for beef breeding enterprises to cull animals from the breeding herd that show unacceptable temperament. This can be done in an “ad-hoc” fashion, where animals are observed and their temperament assessed while being handled, or through the use of a more formal, structured process involving the collection of docility scores.
Docility scores are recorded on animals at weaning or shortly afterwards. The advantage of scoring at weaning is that all calves should have had minimal handling and so will express variation in temperament. Variation in handling between animals prior to scoring should also be minimised.
Docility scores are collected on animals using either a yard or crush test:
This information can not only provide valuable information for the decision to retain an individual but can also feed into the TransTasman Angus Cattle Evaluation (TACE) and contribute to the calculation of EBVs.
2) Selecting Animals with Superior Temperament
In association with culling, selecting animals that have superior genetics for temperament is paramount to genetically improving this trait in a beef breeding enterprise.
Like other production traits, it is important to select animals for breeding this year that are genetically superior to those used last year. This is particularly important when selecting sires due to their overall influence of the genetics in a herd both short-term and long-term through retained daughters.
The most effective information for selecting animals with superior genetics for temperament are Docility EBVs. Selecting sires with higher Docility EBVs to those used in the previous joining will result in long term genetic improvement.
Docility EBVs provide an estimate of the differences in the percentage of progeny that will have acceptable temperament due to genetics, with higher Docility EBVs indicating an animal is expected to produce relatively more progeny with acceptable temperament.
Calculation of EBVs for temperament has several major advantages over simply considering an animal’s own temperament:
EBVs for temperament related traits (as with other traits) focus on the genetic differences between animals for temperament by accounting for any environment and management influences.
Take home messages
For further information visit the Angus Education Centre or contact staff at Angus Australia on (02) 6773 4600 or email@example.com