Behavior Genetics Studies Using the Canadian Beef Reference Herd

a brief summary about behavior research and associated growth and carcass characteristics



This webpage was posted on December 2, 2001 by Sheila Schmutz schmutz@sask.usask.ca


Behavior Measurements

Behavior was an important trait for early domestication. Many ranchers still consider behavior a trait used to cull animals from their herd for the safety of themselves as well as the other cattle. Although most ranchers will tolerate some agression near calving, even then too much agressive behavior results in a trip to the slaughterhouse for the cow and her calf at weaning time.

Dr. Joe Stookey and his students used the Canadian Beef Reference Herd of 17 embryo transfer calf families to study behavior. They used a Motion Measurement Device and which was an adaptation on an electronic weigh cage to record the amount and degree of movement of each animal during a one minute period. The initial measurement was done the day of weaning and we term it "temperament" here. This procedure was repeated at bi-monthly intervals and the difference between the initial and third measurement, we term habituation. This is because the animals that adjust to handling "habituate" and are usually acceptable in a ranch setting, whereas some animals become more agitated the more they are handled.

In order to benefit by selection, a trait must be heritable. Comparison of the temperament scores and habituation scores among the full siblings in the ET families allowed us to calculate heritability. The heritability of temperament was 0.36 and of habituation was 0.46. Therefore both of these traits are of moderate to high heritability and selection should be effective.

  • Stookey JM, Nickel T, Hanson J, and Vandenbosch S, 1994. A movement-measuring-device for objectively measuring temperament in beef cattle and for use in determining factors that influence handling. J Anim Sci 74(Suppl 1):133.
  • Schmutz, S. M., J. M. Stookey, D.C. Winkelman-Sim, C.S. Waltz, Y. Plante and F. C. Buchanan. 2001. A QTL Study of Cattle Behavioral Traits in Embryo Transfer Families. Journal of Heredity 92:290-292.

  • QTL Mapping of Behavior Traits

    QTL= quantitative trait locus or gene. This abbreviation is typically used to indicate the region of a chromosome where a statistically significant peak was found showing close association or linkage between a marker or gene and a trait. One such "peak" was found on cattle chromosome 14. The corresponding known gene under this peak is thyroglobulin. This gene was mapped onto chromosome 14 using a technique called in situ hybridization by Jim Womack's group. A former graduate student, Tim Daskalchuk, developed a PCR-RFLP test or SNP test to map this gene onto the linkage map of chromosome 14 amongst microsatellite markers.

    More recently the use of a polymorphism in thyroglobulin has been patented as the GeneStar® test by Genetic Solutions of Australia. They suggest one allele occurs more often in marbled beef.

  • Daskalchuk, T. E. and S. M. Schmutz. 1997. A three marker linkage map of bovine Chromosome 14 using thyroglobulin as an anchor locus. Mammalian Genome 8:74-75.
  • Threadgill et al. 1990 Cytogenet. Cell Genet. 53:32-36

  • Associations to Growth

    Behavior Trait Growth Trait Correlation Significance
    Temperament Adjusted Yearling Weight r=0.27 P=0.0001
    Habituation Adjusted Yearling Weight r=0.209 P=0.02


    Associations to Carcass Traits

    Although we associate a particular physique with energetic, outdoorsy people and another with the "couch potato" type, this is not usually done with cattle. Our preliminary data would suggest there may be a correlation to the amount of fat cattle develop, relative to their temperament. Such a correlation does not extend to marbling fat or to shear force measurements of meat tenderness, however.

    Association to Temperament Score

    Carcass Trait Correlation Significance
    Grade Fat r=0.276 P=0.002
    %Lean r=0.198 P=0.026
    Marbling r=0.55 P=0.54
    Shear Force r=0.019 P=0.84


    Other Cattle Behavior Studies

  • Stricklin WR, Heisler CE, and Wilson LL, 1980. Heritability of temperament in beef cattle. J Anim Sci 5(Suppl 1):109-110.
  • Le Neindre P, Trillat G, Sapa J, Menissier F, Bonnet J, Chupin J, and Le Neindre P, 1995. Individual differences in docility in Limousin cattle. J Anim Sci 73:2249-2253.
  • Morris C, Cullen N, Kilgour R, and Bremner K, 1994. Some genetic factors affecting temperamennt in Bos taurus cattle. New Zealand J Ag Res 37:167-175.
  • Fordyce G, Howitt C, Holroyd R, O'Rourke P, and Entwistle K,1996. The performance of Brahman-Shorthorn and Sahiwal-Shorthorn beef cattle in the dry tropics of northern Queensland. 5. Scrotal circumference, temperament, ectoparasite resistance, and the genetics of growth and other traits in bulls. Aust J Exp Ag 36:9-17.
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  • Mourao GB, Bergmann JAG, and Fereira MBD, 1998. Differencas geneticas e estimacao de coeficientes de herdabilidade para temperamento em femeas zebus e F1 Holandes X zebu. Revista Brasilerira de Zootecnia 27:722-729..
  • Other Related Cattle Websites

  • Coat Colors
  • Canadian Beef Reference Herd for Gene Mapping
  • Polled, Scurred, and Horned
  • back to Genes for Cowboys , Table of Contents Page

    back to Schmutz Genetics Research Main Page


    for further information contact:

    Department of Animal and Poultry Science

    University of Saskatchewan

    Saskatoon, Canada S7N 5A8

    phone: (306)966-4153 fax: (306)966-4151

    e-mail schmutz@sask.usask.ca