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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Beef Cattle: Behavior Management and Well-Being

Authors
item Lay, Jr, Donald
item Toscano, Michael

Submitted to: Encyclopedia of Animal Science
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: January 5, 2003
Publication Date: March 31, 2010
Citation: Lay, Jr, D.C. The Encyclopedia of Applied Animal Behaviour and Welfare, CABI No. Am. Office, Cambridge, MA. Available: www.cabi.org

Interpretive Summary: The well-being of beef cattle can be assured by attention to health and the minimization of stress. Exposure to some environments and management techniques may cause both physical and psychological stress. In turn, stressful states cause the animal to have an impaired immune system, thereby causing them to succumb to disease. Thus, keeping basic behavioral principles in mind and allowing cattle to exhibit normal behaviors while at the same time decreasing deleterious behaviors such as aggression will help to optimize well-being. Some management procedures are inherently stressful, such as weaning and transportation. Thus, extra care should be taken during these times to minimize stress as much as possible. Keen observation of the behavior of each individual will allow the stockperson to detect when specific animals are overly stressed and to act accordingly to reduce this negative state and increase animal well-being.

Technical Abstract: Managing beef cattle effectively requires substantial knowledge of nutrition, health, reproduction and behavior. Beef cattle have specific requirements in each of the mentioned categories and deviations from these requirements can cause the animal to enter a state of impaired well-being. One area of concern is for calves that are 'unthrifty', 'weak calf syndrome' and calves that do not suck 'dummy calf syndrome'. Close observation of newborn calves will identify these problems. If calves can be helped to suckle during the first several days, they often learn to suck on their own and regain a healthful status. It is common for calves to form 'nurseries', in which calves congregate while their dams move off to graze. Typically, at least one cow will stay close to the nursery and if a predator comes close or they are disturbed, the cow will vocalize at which point her calf comes to her and the cows in the herd return to their own calves. Nursery formation is normal and should not be taken as a sign that the cow has abandoned her calf. Weaning at an age of 6 months is premature to the nature of cattle and thus has the potential to cause distress. The amount of stress the calf is experiencing can be observed from the amount of fence pacing and bawling the calf performs after weaning. These behaviors along with the stressful state dissipate over a period of several weeks. Transportation is generally considered stressful to animals as indicated by numerous studies employing physiological and behavioral techniques. Reducing transport stress is of great interest to producers, government, and consumers, as the effects of stress include reduced meat quality, bruised carcasses which must be trimmed, and potential suffering that will compromise animal well-being. The behavior of cattle during transport is an important factor to consider as the interaction between animals and the individuals' response to transport can greatly effect how the cattle cope with transport stress.

Last Modified: 7/31/2014
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