Temple Grandin urges better animal management

Linda Benedict  |  2/26/2011 12:06:17 AM

Read a longer version of this article in the News Archive.

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 go 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 management. 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 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.” 

Linda Foster Benedict

(This article was published in the winter issue of Louisiana Agriculture Magazine.)

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