Temple Grandin urges better livestock management, more ag communication

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She rarely cracked a smile during her hour-long presentation, but internationally renowned animal scientist Temple Grandin cracked up the audience many times with her wry observations on the food industry.

Grandin, whose life story was made into an Emmy Award-winning movie that aired on HBO in 2010, was one of the guest speakers during a day-long workshop on livestock management, sponsored by the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine and the LSU AgCenter on Jan. 26.

Grandin’s overarching concern for the welfare of animals, even as they are sent to slaughter, changed the way livestock facilities are designed and managed. She attributes her success partly to her autistic condition. In addition to being a spokeswoman for the humane treatment of animals, she uses her celebrity to call for better understanding of autism.

“I’m a very visual person,” said Grandin, who is an animal science professor at Colorado State University. “I see details. And that’s what animals see, details. They think in pictures.”

As Grandin has studied livestock animal behavior over the past 35 years, she has on occasion put herself physically in their place – down in the chutes, for example – to determine what could be done to make the animals less fearful.

The bottom line is that animals produce more and better meat and higher-quality food products if they’re treated well, she said.

She sees no problem in being a proponent of both animal welfare and the eating of animals and their products.

“Vegans have to realize that they need animal manure to make plants grow,” she said.

Dressed in her signature cowboy shirt, she told the audience of agriculture students and faculty the basics of good animal mangement. The No. 1 rule for the animal handler is to remain calm and not yell at animals or physically abuse them in any way. With strategic use of lights and barriers, she designs facilities that get rid of distractions for animals and abrupt changes in lighting that cause them to get nervous.

She sees nothing wrong with the use of large feedlots or confinement facilities as long as the animals have enough space to move and lie down, do not get overheated and can have some semblance of privacy for such acts as hens’ laying eggs.

“What does a hen need? A secluded area to lay her eggs,” Grandin said.

Without this, the hen is extremely uneasy, comparable to the way people would feel if they had to spend the night “in a hotel room without a door in a bad neighborhood.”

When asked about the experience of having a movie made of her life, she said it was enjoyable, and she was impressed with the professionalism of the movie industry. The movie was entitled “Temple Grandin” and starred Claire Danes, who won the Emmy for best actress for her portrayal of the professor.

Grandin attended the recent Golden Globes awards event in Hollywood and found the movie people well-behaved – a sharp contrast from a grocers’ convention she had been to in the 1970s.

"That was a total drunken orgy,” she said.

She serves as a consultant for many major food corporations including McDonald’s and Swift. Her livestock facility designs are used around the world.

When asked about autism, she told the audience it is a condition that can make people completely nonverbal or can make them into “the geeks and nerds that run some of the most important businesses in Silicon Valley.

“It’s a continuum,” she said. “If you get rid of the autism gene, you’d eliminate some power in this world.”

But she feels there must be more research on autism and the spread of its more severe forms.

She is concerned about the eroding support for research at institutions of higher education and, particularly, the applied research that takes place at the nation’s land-grant universities, such as the LSU AgCenter.

“This is the kind of research I did – applied research,” she said. “This kind of research must be objective and not completely dependent on industry for funding.”

She encouraged the audience to do more communicating about agriculture including the posting of more videos on YouTube about animal handling practices.

“In ag we tend to stay in a hole and don’t communicate. But the public is curious,” she said.

She says the numbers show that people are more likely to view videos of good practices rather than the shameful ones that should be banned.

She’s all for a new drug that will eliminate the need to castrate pigs.

“I’m glad because that doesn’t look very nice on a video,” she said.

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Margaret Moss    
Brentwood, TN  |  February, 03, 2011 at 07:55 PM

For Temple Grandin: I became a huge fan after viewing the movie several times. I am a Kindergarten teacher and the wife of a Dairy Farmer and sister-in-law of a dairy farmer. As a teacher, your insights into the treatment of animals can also be applied to the treatment of children, ie, gentleness. softness, respect. I also learned so much about those students who are autistic and who are members of my class. Thank you for allowing your story to be shared not only with those who make working with animals their life's work, but also those of us who have the privilege of working with children, all kinds, all minds. You are simply wonderful!

February, 11, 2011 at 09:32 AM

ha i heard that movie waz great

oklahoma  |  February, 17, 2011 at 06:35 PM

this helped me alot with my paper so thanks for the info.

Australia  |  January, 19, 2013 at 07:05 AM

Temple has done amazing things to improve the welfare and stock movement and make it not only less stressful to man and beast but also more efficient. The sad thing is that the industries that implement the improvements continue to be criticised even though they have done so much. If they talk about the improvements they have made they get accused of gilding lillies, telling lies or just ignored cause "good news never made a paper sell". Things have really improved but animal rights people just move on to the next problem or claim that progress has come only because of their campaigns (and please donate more money, on-line, to our organisation...), and many won't be satisfied till the world is extreme vegan. The complicit press laps it up cause controversy is good copy.