Research: Effects of disposition and acclimation to human handling on feedlot performance and carcass characteristics of feeder steers

So as I’ve mentioned before, this summer/fall I’ll be interning at the Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Station (EOARC) in Burns, Oregon under Dr. Reinaldo Cooke. So my next few blog posts leading up to that will concern the research that we will be conducting, as well as a brief look at previous similar experiments that have been conducted at the station or elsewhere.

The first one is one that I’ve actually discussed on this blog before, and it concerns the effects of disposition and acclimation to human handling on cattle in all life stages. Previous research has examined heifers and cows, looking mostly at reproduction, performance, and temperament (note, there has been more recent research on the subject, however it is not yet published online). The new proposal that I will get to help work on will be concerning steers and feedlot performance.

The overall purpose of the study isn’t to find anything drastically new, as calm disposition has already been shown to be beneficial for general and feedlot performance in other settings. Primarily the goal is to examine cow/calf operations as they are used in Oregon (large rangeland scenarios, not drylots), promote selection for calm disposition as a production trait, and show that acclimation to handling is a possible and beneficial way to attain higher yields (in terms of carcass quality).

In terms of the methods, I’m still reading and rereading all of these so that I’m very familiar with the experiments we will be running. As far as the acclimation process goes, we’re going to be spending time with the experimental group for two hours, three times a week before they go to the feedlot. During that time we will run them through basic handling procedures, and during feeding times we will walk around in close proximity to further acclimate them to our presence. At the end of the 60 days at the EOARC they’ll take a 24 hour truck ride (to simulate transport that would normally be long and stressful for most of Oregon cattle) then head to the feedlot in Boardman. The control group will remain free to graze during this time without excess human contact to keep them non-acclimated.

The quantitative data we will be collecting (at multiple points during the experiment) will include: cortisol, inflammatory proteins, IGF-1 (Insulin like Growth Factor), weight gain, feed intake, feed efficiency, health condition, morbidity and mortality, and several carcass characteristics. Our evaluation of cattle disposition will also be quantitative, as it will be evaluated based on chute exit velocity and chute score.

A quick note on exit velocity, when I visited the EOARC, Reinaldo showed me the infrared sensor that they use to measure chute exit velocity. I think that similar devices are used to measure fastballs. I just thought it was really cool. There are a lot of other experiments on temperament out there that examine exit velocity, it’s well proven as a method for determining excitability/temperament/disposition. I just think it’s really cool, and pretty brilliant.

I imagine that we’ll find the expected results, and that the acclimated steers will be less stressed and better producers than the control group. I’m also curious whether this is the last in the series examining this effect, or if there’s still another age group or factor to analyze. This effect on dairy cows has already been examined, so what could be left? There’s nothing except the feedlot. Given the compact and efficient nature of the feedlot, I don’t think it’s financially viable to take the time to further acclimate the animals to the human presence. Hopefully, the acclimation routine done in the cow/calf operation beforehand will be sufficient to promote better performance on the feedlot, and this study will examine just that. I’ll definitely be asking Reinaldo what his future proposals will be, and maybe even get to participate in that thinking process.

Click here to view the actual research proposal.

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