The effect of weekly handling on the temperament of peri-puberal crossbred beef heifers
The objectives of this study were to determine the effects of handling peri-puberal heifers for 2 h each week on in-chute behavior, isolation behavior, and the time required for each heifer to leave the testing area; and to determine if the location of the facial hair whorl was associated with any of the behavior scores or social dominance order. Crossbred beef heifers (n = 146) were assigned to be walked through, sorted and moved through a chute for 2 hr each wk for 20 wk (HANDLED) or allowed to remain on pasture unless handling was required to treat an injury or disease (CONTROL). In-chute behavior, isolation behavior and exit times were observed and scored at the beginning (0 wk), middle (10 wk) and end of the experiment (20 wk). The facial hair whorl on each heifer was classified as being high (above the eyes), middle (between the eyes), or low (below the eyes). At the end of the experiment pairs of heifers in the HANDLED group competed for a feed source and a social dominance order was estimated. Weekly handling decreased in-chute behavior scores of heifers with facial hair whorl positions classified as medium or low, but not in heifers that exhibited a hair whorl high on their face. Cattle in the HANDLED treatment group which had an initial isolation score of 2 or 3 had the greatest improvement in temperament over the entire experiment when compared to CONTROL animals with the same initial isolation score. The calmest heifers were not negatively affected by the handling, while the most agitated animals in the HANDLED had a similar overall change in isolation score as those animals in the
CONTROL group. This indicates that while weekly handling improved the temperament and behavior of heifers with intermediate temperament rating at the outset of the experiment, weekly handling seemed unnecessary for the calmest heifers and did not have a beneficial effect on the heifers rated as the most nervous and agitated at the beginning of the experiment. Social dominance rankings were positively correlated (P < 0.10) with final in-chute behavior scores, but not with the other behavior scores or heifer body weight. Cattle with the hair whorls in the middle of the forehead had higher mean social dominant rank than those with hair whorls higher or lower on the face (P < 0.03). Overall, the results of this experiment indicate that behavior testing can reveal differences in the temperament of heifers and that, other than the most nervous and agitated heifers; repeated handling could serve to improve the temperament of the animals.