Genetic selection for temperament traits in dairy and beef cattle

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Animal temperament can be defined as a response to environmental or social stimuli. There are a number of temperament traits in cattle that contribute to their welfare, including their response to handling or milking, response to challenge such as human approach or intervention at calving, and response to conspecifics. In a number of these areas, the genetic basis of the trait has been studied. Heritabilities have been estimated and in some cases quantitative trait loci (QTL) have been identified. The variation is sometimes considerable and moderate heritabilities have been found for the major handling temperament traits, making them amenable to selection. Studies have also investigated the correlations between temperament and other traits, such as productivity and meat quality. Despite this, there are relatively few examples of temperament traits being used in selection programmes. Most often, animals are screened for aggression or excessive fear during handling or milking, with extreme animals being culled, or EBVs for temperament are estimated, but these traits are not commonly included routinely in selection indices, despite there being economic, welfare and human safety drivers for their. There may be a number of constraints and barriers. For some traits and breeds, there may be difficulties in collecting behavioral data on sufficiently large populations of animals to estimate genetic parameters. Most selection indices require estimates of economic values, and it is often difficult to assign an economic value to a temperament trait. The effects of selection primarily for productivity traits on temperament and welfare are discussed. Future opportunities include automated data collection methods and the wider use of genomic information in selection.
Original languageEnglish
JournalFrontiers in Genetics
Issue number368
Publication statusFirst published - 21 Oct 2014

Bibliographical note



  • Animal personality
  • Animal welfare
  • Genetic correlation
  • Genetic variation
  • Temperament


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