Wild Thang I think I’ll Cull You
It is hard to put a price on the aggravation factor of a heifer who throws up her head and takes off right when she gets to the corral—and naturally takes the rest of the heifers with her. Or the idiot steer that makes sorting and loading one truck an all-day affair. Not to mention the certifiable nut case that wrecks your holding pen and/or puts you in the hospital. But lo and behold there are actual dollar figures to show that crazies cost you money.
“We have new data that shows docile calves are worth $62 a head more in the feedlot than aggressive calves,” says Darrell Busby, Iowa State animal scientist. Since the late 1980s, Busby and his crew have been disposition scoring the calves in the Tri-County Steer Carcass Futurity when they work and weigh them. In the last four years they have scored more than 8,000 calves using the Beef Improvement Federation disposition score of one (docile) to six (aggressive). Iowa State and the feeders in the futurity also routinely keep complete feedlot and carcass data on the futurity calves, making it possible to link disposition and performance data. Disposition counts in a big way in heifer marketing, too.
The cost of bad apples. University of Georgia animal scientists use the same scoring system on the heifers in the Heifer Evaluation and Reproductive Development (HERD) program. In the fall, producers across the state bring their heifers to one of two central locations. Gain and reproductive tract scores are taken along with disposition scores. The heifers are bred to calving ease bulls and the ones that meet the requirements are sold in two special HERD sales in the spring. Producers can also opt to take their heifers back to their home farms.
“When we sort this data, the heifers with higher disposition scores, on the average, bring a few hundred dollars less,” says University of Georgia animal scientist Robert Stewart. “Now that the buyers understand what the disposition scores mean, they treat them like bull buyers do EPDs. They won’t even look at the ones with higher scores. Even in the first sale, the fours were not in demand.”
There have now been six sales in the south Georgia location and five in north Georgia.
The Northwest Georgia experiment station in Calhoun is headquarters for one of the HERD programs. Station superintendent Phil Worley agrees with Stewart.
“The figures from the HERD sale are dramatic when they are sorted by disposition score and selling price,” Worley says. “The heifers with bad disposition scores just don’t sell. Consignors learn quickly; and the heifers in the HERD program have tremendously better disposition scores now.” So, disposition does affect the bottom line. Granted, handling is a part of the equation, but Kent Andersen, executive vice president of the North American Limousin Foundation (NALF), says disposition can be improved genetically.
NALF has more than 10 years of data to prove it. Actually, their story started 15 years ago with a symposium in Kansas. “We took a real hard look at the breed and its strengths and opportunities for improvement,” Andersen says. “We knew there was a lot to improve with temperament.”
The association developed a chute scoring system with a score of one (docile) to six (aggressive). Sound familiar? It is the same one adapted by BIF. On the advice of Colorado State animal behavior expert Temple Grandin, the association members scored calves at weaning. Andersen says at that stage the calves are old enough to show their temperament, but probably haven’t had enough trips through the chute for a bad experience to influence the score.
“In the first two years, we collected 50,000 records and found the scoring system does a pretty good job of identifying genetic differences,” Andersen says. “We also found disposition has a heritability of 0.4.”