University of Arkansas, Fayetteville Division of Agriculture


Our objective was to determine effects of aggressive handling on growth performance, behavior, and cortisol concentrations in beef calves. Crossbred calves (313 ± 4.7 kg; n = 54; 24 steers, 30 heifers) from a single herd were stratified by gender, body weight, and initial chute score, then allocated randomly to one of six pens. Each pen was randomly assigned to one of two handling treatments (good or adverse) applied on days 7, 35, 63, and 91. The objective of good treatment was to handle the calves quietly and gently to minimize stress. The objective of adverse treatment was to move the calves quickly and expose them to stimuli. Body weight, exit velocity, and chute scores (based on 5 point subjective scale) were recorded and salivary samples for cortisol were collected (4 calves/ pen) on days 0, 7, 35, 63, and 91. Pen scores (5 point subjective scale) were recorded on days 12, 42, and 87. Data were analyzed statistically using a mixed model. Chute scores tended to be higher (more agitated) in the adverse treatment on day 7, but scores did not differ on subsequent days (treatment × day; P = 0.06). Salivary cortisol concentrations on day 63 were greater in cattle on the adverse treatment (treatment × day, P = 0.001). Body weight, exit velocity, and pen scores were not affected by treatment (P ≥ 0.24). While differences were observed, these cattle appeared to acclimate to short-term adverse handling which did not seem to dramatically affect performance or behavior of beef cattle.