Docility: A necessity trait at Mushrush Ranches
As a multi-generational family cow/calf operation, we’ve had a similar life cycle to many of our customers. Across the decades of our Red Angus seedstock business we’ve gotten older, had small children, aging parents, then small grandchildren. Seems like at any point in the Mushrush Ranches chronology, there’s been a human reason why the docility of our cattle has been imperative. But it goes deeper than just the implied responsibility – at some level you have to love this business to make it your life’s work. And, this business is a lot easier to love, when your cattle are a pleasure to handle. Fortunately, we got off to a very real head start when we chose Red Angus; as a breed they are naturally polled and more docile than almost any other.
Like all other traits the docility we experience results from both genetics and environment. We have been students of our craft, and continually looked for ways to refine our processes in order to reduce stress or anxiety in our cattle – both in our handling techniques and in the redesign of our handling facilities. Plus, we’ve endeavored to handle our cattle in a consistent and uniform manner across large groups. Thus, we can feel comfortable that the variation we observe in cattle dispositions are real and not something introduced by our management.
We’ve always anecdotally observed the docility (or lack thereof) of our cattle; identifying bulls that needed to go to larger operations, or cows we had to watch when we tagged their calves. And, just by paying attention, making notes in the calving book and ruthless culling, we’ve reduced the incidence of less than desirable dispositions. However, if we wanted to identify bloodlines that improve docility and possibly establish tools to identify genetic differences, we knew we needed to apply the same tactics we use to separate genetics from management in other traits. Specifically, measuring phenotypes in large meaningful contemporary groups.
So, how do we measure docility?
A few years ago, we began collecting docility scores on our bulls as part of their pre-sale phenotypic scoring. To accomplish this, bulls are individually separated from their herd mates and made to stand in a 15-foot-wide alley between two people. Numerical scores 1-5 are assigned to each bull with a “1” being the most docile and a “5” being the least. We score the bulls individually, because when they are separated is when they are most likely to be stressed and display any anxious or aggressive behavior. The video below summarizes the process.
Docility scores for each individual bull are listed in the Mushrush sale catalog and are recorded by an objective 3rd party. This removes bias generated by how well we know our own cattle. Docility scores are listed below with their observed behaviors. The vast majority of our sale bulls score either a 1 or 2. In the event that a bull scores 5, they do not make the sale and are culled from the herd.
Docility scores : 1 to 5
- Very Comfortable (Stands quietly, chews cud)
- Comfortable (Walks around)
- Slightly Uncomfortable (Walks faster, respiration may be somewhat elevated — not particularly happy but accepting of mild pressure)
- Nervous (Bull wants to return to herd-mates – may attempt to run past with little to no pressure applied)
- Very Nervous and/or Aggressive (Puts people on the fence)
As of the publication of this article, American Simmental Association (ASA) and American Angus Association (AAA) have developed Docility EPDs for their respective breeds. At this time no such prediction exists for Red Angus. In the meantime, we’ll make the most genetic progress, and enjoy our work to the fullest if we adhere to practical selection and culling practices which eliminate the poor docility cattle from our gene pool, and identify the superior docility cattle to be reproduced through focused selection pressure.
We welcome any other questions you may have and invite you to our Annual Production Sale on March 17th!
- 85 Age-advantaged, feed efficiency tested Red Angus Bulls
- 100 Stout Yearling Bulls (Red Angus & SimAngus)
- 100 Bred Fall calving and Open Spring Yearling commercial Red Angus replacements
- 10 “U Pick ‘Em” lots of Front-end Registered Red Angus Open Heifers