Temperament refers to the nature or disposition of an animal. Part of its temperament is determined genetically, both by breed and parentage; some of it is learned-a response to the treatment it receives from other animals or the people who raise and handle it.
Temperament is reflected in an animal's behavior, the way it moves and acts, and the way it reacts to the things around it. It is difficult to know much about temperament from the quick evaluation that usually precedes the purchase of a draft animal. The buyer must guess, from what is observable, whether or not an animal will accept new routines or maintenance and training, behave well in a pair, and prove to be a spirited yet steady-paced and manageable worker. Sometimes, what is observable is not typical of the animal's behavior. A basically lethargic bull, for example, may become very alert or nervous at the approach of a stranger, exhibiting a fierceness that could be misinterpreted as a strong yet controllable spirit. A donkey that is mishandled and mismanaged might kick or butt at its owner, or at any adult, but be led away quite easily by a child. The buyer must be aware of such possibilities and at the same time drew some basic conclusions about the animal's temperament.
The following are signs of good temperament:
• Good overall conformation and health. The animal has no physical handicaps that require it to compensate with aggressive or stubborn behavior. An animal with bad vision or hearing, an unsound leg or joint, or with a chronic respiratory or muscular weakness, protects itself by balking, spooking, shying, refusing to be harnessed or lying down during work. Its temperament is affected or shaped by its physical condition.
• The animal accepts the handling of the owner. The owner can pick up the animal's foot, open its mouth, lead it with a rope without having to use force or harsh measures.
• It does not shy or kick at other animals. The buyer should try to be present when it is being turned out with a herd or put into a corral with other animals. If an animal is unusually aggressive or cowardly, it may not work well in a pair. Aggressive animals force their work-mates to shy or lean out of the yoke or harness, while cowardly animals may refuse to step evenly with their mates, lagging behind.
When an animal is taken from its herd or original owner and staked out or corralled in a new place, it may experience shock. The animal may show signs of aggression, withdrawal, stubbornness, fear, or general anxiety. None of these reactions is unnatural during the adjustment period, and should not be taken as a sign of an unsuitable disposition. An animal's character becomes clear later, during training and preseason work. At that time the farmer can judge the ability of the animal to work as part of a pair or team. Buying an animal early in the offseason allows the owner time to seek a replacement should a problem arise.