Temple Grandin: The golden rule applies not just to people, but livestock, too

She is an author of books primarily devoted to promoting animal welfare (Livestock Handling and Transport; Animals Make Us Human; Improving Animal Welfare: A Practical Approach); and treatises recognizing the abilities of pets (Animals in Translation).

In addition, she has delved into a study of human relationships. Her biography revealed her insecurities while growing up with a diagnosis of autism and of being taunted by classmates. She experienced difficulty coping with social interactions, and one sees evidence of it to this day.

This innate sensitivity, though, motivated her work in extending humane handling to livestock. The secret to Grandin’s success is to apply the Golden Rule to man and beast alike.

Her ability to straddle more than one world at once makes her a desired speaker. Along with Daren Williams, Executive Director Communications for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, she was a perfect choice to address the conference’s theme of  “Animal Welfare and Telling our Story.”

Despite battling laryngitis and a cold, the 66-year-old Grandin stuck to her rugged schedule on Jan. 17, and gave two lectures for NYBPA members before and after lunch, plus an additional one for the public at dinner. She kept up a steady pace, whether on the conference floor or  standing in the hallway, autographing countless books and responding to questions from fans.

“Calm animals are easier to handle,” she told attendees. Rough handling or poorly-designed equipment raises cortisol levels and heart rates in animals and affect meat quality. In turn, calm animals reduce stress levels in their managers.

Wearing her trademark western-styled scarf, shirt and slacks, the tall and slender Grandin belies her youth growing up in Boston and attending private boarding schools. According to her bio, her mother felt justified in ignoring Temple’s autism, speech disorder and attention-deficit disorder and instead giving her extra attention (albeit from a nanny), and an above-average education.

Trips to her aunt’s horse ranch in Arizona each summer had the greatest impact on her, Grandin said in a separate interview. She joined the 4-H club at home and developed a lifetime relationship with horses.
After getting her bachelor’s degree in psychology at small, private Franklin Pierce College in New Hampshire, she went on to study animal science at Arizona State. She later obtained a doctoral degree in animal science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Though she has been studying animal behavior and advocating for humane treatment for the last 40 years, she also recognizes contemporary trends.

“The millennial generation is more concerned about where their food comes from,” said Grandin during her lecture on maintaining animal welfare standards. Yet she pointed to eye-opening statistics from surveys that show that students and young people are so far removed from agriculture that 31 percent claim to never have stepped foot on a farm. Another 50 percent of young adults in the United Kingdom failed to recognize that bacon comes from pigs.
Today’s consumers care about how that animal is treated. Every animal has the right to five “freedoms,” she said in her presentation. She is not naive enough to know that humane treatment doesn’t happen overnight nor without training.
“Maintaining high standards requires continuous monitoring,” she emphasized. So she set about determining ways to train inspectors to audit farms and slaughterhouses to evaluate staff practices, to track the uses of equipment such as stunners, and to reduce needless deaths and suffering of animals.

“Here’s a view of the squeeze chutes from the cow’s eyes,” she said, pointing to the large screens in front of the conference room. “Animals going into the slaughterhouse are afraid of things that people do not notice. Putting a light at the opening attracts animals. Find the optimal pressure for holding an animal in the chute, not too tight nor too loose.”

She discussed how to to read signs of fear and anxiety in animals and then gave pointers on how to make barns, paddocks and cages comfortable for cows, cattle, chickens and pigs.

For example: use plenty of light to reduce shadows; use no-slip mats to provide good footing and cover cracks in the floors; eliminate outside distractions by propping up cardboard or building high walls around fences and chutes; avoid startling animals and give them time to sniff out new equipment and people; tie up loose ends of ropes and chains, and reduce the flight zone or escape route by using curved chutes (which she designed).

Handlers should back off and not confront a temperamental animal. Avoid using an electric prod and eliminate yelling and whistling at animals. “People get way too aggressive,” she said.

Whether the livestock industry would have reached an understanding of treating animals humanely without Grandin’s input is debatable. It’s now become standard practice for farmers to throw open their barn doors and invite the public to see a herd of healthy cows that are treated well, and to post Facebook pages with warm, fuzzy photos of children and livestock.

Thanks to an industry that adopted her advice, it’s now possible to give consumers the benefit of quality assurance in their food, not to mention creating feelings of pride among farmers and producers.

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