‘Exit speed’ tells calf moods, buyers bid-up calmer calves

Duane Dailey

“Exit speed” is a trait farmers should know about their cattle. Slow exit speed adds value.

Exit speed tells how beef animals leave a working chute. Some calves shoot out when the head gate opens. Others stroll out.

Speeders likely fought the head gate much of time confined.

Recently, farmers saw and learned about exit speed in two Extension meetings at Joplin Regional Stockyards.

The first group brought feeder calves entered in a Steer Feedout program. Livestock specialist Eldon Cole makes the gathering into teaching time. Graders and calf buyers talk about each consignment. They pointed out differences in temperament among calf lots. Some calves were hyper. Some were calm.

Now we know that genetic profiles predict calm or hyper calves. DNA influences temperament.

Temper can be nature or nurture. Calm calves learn hyper from how they are treated. Can it be that calves’ temperament reflects owners’ moods?

In a panel talk, feeder-calf buyers said they pay more for calm calves. Those that stroll around the sale ring fetch higher bids. Buyers won’t bid as much for calves trying to climb out of the ring.

Calves with high-exit speed won’t slow down to eat, settling into a feedlot. Slow ones gain fast and make money for the feeder.

Buyers at Show-Me-Select Replacement Heifer sales look at “exit speed.” I’ve gone to SMS sales for over 20 years and see differences in pens of heifers. Some stroll in and look around. Others zip around, looking for ways to jump out.

Over decades, I see great calming of heifers. Producers learn that nervous heifers don’t bring as much.

At the Joplin sale last week, some heifers were sorted by genetic traits. All heifers in a pen had similar DNA.

Extension specialists noted that heifers rated “docile” were ho-hum calm.

Eldon Cole’s farmers are early adopters of genetic testing. About half the heifers for sale came with known DNA.

Now, buyers must learn how to read genetic data in heifer sale catalogs to know offerings in each lot. Genetic data has value. Slowly we’re learning to apply science to herd replacement buying. There’s much to learn.

Sadly, I missed reporting first hand those two meetings. I’m grounded, still recovering from the fall and broken knee from the Missouri Photo Workshop. Last week, my orthopedic surgeon gave my knee high marks on recovery. No hardware needed to screw the kneecap back together. But, I’m not running yet.

My exit speed rates near zero. But, that doesn’t make me worth more. I’ll travel again, soon. Meanwhile, I still write stories. No knee needed after I get my butt in a chair in front of a computer keyboard. Fingers still connect to the brain. Neither docile.

My co-worker Linda Geist covered the steer feedout gathering. In turn, I helped her with the livestock terms she’s learning. Until now, she’s worked crops and horticulture.

She brings excellent journalism to our news output. High speed.

At the Missouri Photo Workshop, a young photographer learned about beef cows in her farm story. She took a classy photo of the value of a docile cow. The farmer astraddle a new calf clamps on an ear tag number. The mama cow about 10 feet away watches intently. She is not climbing atop the farmer.

The cow is docile. Her calf, with mom’s docile DNA, takes the ear tag. Docility gains value for a cow-calf producer.

Calm working of cows teaches them calm behavior. Some bad clues that make cattle nervous are low farmer contact. Feed buckets help teach. But, hot-shot prods and whips destroy calm. Likewise hot-rod four wheelers and ill-trained dogs don’t help the calm.

Over years of reporting on management-intensive grazing, I note MiG herds tend to be docile. They learn when the farmer comes to open a gate to a fresh paddock, they get more grass. They calmly await the farmer’s call. No driving needed.

Quick, share your stories with duanedailey7@gmail.com.