Take 4 inches of muck in a corral and mix in lots of humidity, a light drizzle and 50 unhappy cows. Add two scientists, two cowboys with their horses, a cow dog and a couple of pieces of high-tech equipment.
A recipe for disaster? Actually, those ingredients combined to form a livestock research laboratory at the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station's Brown Loam branch. On a sultry summer day, MAFES scientist Rhonda Vann and herdsman David Miller evaluated a group of steers and heifers for pen temperament, chute temperament and exit velocity. James Green and David Funches assisted, with the help of Lucy the cow dog.
The work at Brown Loam is part of a collaboration with Texas A&M University researcher Ron Randel to evaluate the relationship between temperament and animal performance and body composition.
The speed at which an animal leaves the holding chute is a key factor in the research. Faster cattle tended to be more temperamental. For her research, Vann uses an infrared timer to clock the cattle as they come out of the chute.
“Preliminary research results indicate that exit speed is a preferred measurement due to the subjective nature of the chute and pen temperament scoring systems,” Vann said.
“Cows' and their calves' exit speeds are significantly correlated, which suggests that selection for slower exit velocity within the cow herd could improve the temperament of calves produced,” she said.
Data generated on stocker steers indicates that after a 168-day grazing period, temperamental steers have reduced growth performance and body composition. The research also shows the fastest animals out of the holding chute tend to be less tender after being in the feedlot for 120 days.
“If found to be a valid measure, exit velocity is easily measured and could possibly be used in the selection of animals with more desirable temperaments,” Vann said. “This could help producers increase the production efficiency of the animals in their herds.”
While in the chute, the heifers also were tested for pregnancy using real-time ultrasound as part of early pregnancy research with the station's commercial herd.
Bob Ratliff is a science writer for University Relations at Mississippi State University.