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Investigating the relationship between cattle personality and grazing distribution

Principal Investigator: Kristina Horback

The relationship between animal personality and foraging patterns is well-known in the field of wildlife ecology but it has never been investigated in domestic livestock. Knowledge of personality traits which predict grazing patterns in rangeland beef cattle could help ranchers to understand why certain individuals, and entire herds, display non-uniform distribution.

Uneven dispersal of livestock is a major environmental concern as it can result in overgrazing of specific habitats, under-utilization of pastures, and may result in damage to vegetation, riparian function, and/or wildlife survivability. While there is a wealth of research investigating preferred habitat-use of rangeland cattle as it relates to breed, lactation-state, plant species, topography, and season, there is scarce information on the influence of animal personality on cattle distribution.

Given the lack of research on the impact of cattle personality on individual grazing distribution, there is a need to develop behavioral experiments specifically-designed for beef cattle in order to identify relevant personality traits. The objectives of this study are to:

  1. Determine individual grazing distribution within a single herd of pre-calving, extensively-grazed beef cows.
  2. Identify consistent individual differences in the behavioral traits of docility, exploration, boldness, activity, and sociability among the same cows.
  3. Evaluate the relationship between individual animal personality and grazing distribution.

Target audiences for this study include beef cattle producers, researchers involved in beef cattle production, cattle breed associations, and beef cattle extension personnel. Results from this “proof-of-concept” study has the potential to improve both ranch profitability and environmental health of California’s rangelands.