Colorado State Researcher Links Animal Temperment and Bone Size

Temple Grandin, renowned animal behavior specialist at Colorado State University, released new research along with a graduate student that may continue to help the animal industry understand livestock behavior and further improve animal handling systems.

The research project, conducted in conjunction with student Jennifer Lanier, indicates that cattle with fine bones may have a more skittish temperament than those with a heavier frame, which means that livestock handlers may be better able to predict which animals will experience stress in certain situations. In the study, animals with a calmer temperament had cannon bones that were 5 percent wider and 9 percent thicker than high-strung animals with thinner bones.

"Being able to predict an animal’s temperament helps predict their behavior in various situations," said Grandin. "Knowing how an animal may behave helps people manage animal handling systems with the animal’s welfare in mind."

Lanier worked with Grandin to test their idea that the width and thickness of animals bones can predict their temperament.

"I think that this information applies to many animals," said Grandin. Grandin said that animals are prone to either flight or fight, and she had noticed some time ago that animals with thinner bones are more prone to flight. "In general an antelope is more skittish than is a water buffalo; a greyhound dog is more flighty than a bull dog; Araibian horses are generally more high-strung than draft horses."

The study also shows that bone size indicates the differences in temperament between individual animals of the same breed.

"Our study shows a clear statistical difference in the behavior of steers and heifers with thicker and wider bones versus steers and heifers with narrow, thinner bones," said Lanier, who measured the cannon bones of about 200 cattle and used a scoring system to compare them with the animal’s behavior while being handled. The animal’s temperament was evaluated based on whether it ran, trotted or walked out of a chute after it was handled and whether it was reluctant to place its head in the chute.

Grandin is credited for revolutionizing the way livestock are handled in animal processing facilities, making treatment of animals more humane. Her practices have been adopted world-wide and are endorsed by companies such as McDonalds Restaurants.