Farm Talk

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August 27, 2013

Thinking visually with Temple Grandin

Parsons, Kansas — “The animal world is a sensory based world,” said Dr. Temple Grandin of Colorado State University. “What are they seeing? What are they hearing?”

On Wed., August 14, livestock producers filled McCray Hall-Sharon K. Dean Recital Hall at Pittsburg State University, to hear Grandin speak on animal welfare. Grandin, an accomplished author and researcher, has worked with several packing plants to design humane slaughter methods. The well respected livestock handling consultant, also designs working facilities for livestock owners.

Dressed in her signature western shirt and neck scarf, Grandin, who is autistic, explained how she is able process things visually — much like livestock.

“Get down in the chute and see what those animals are seeing,” she encouraged producers.

Grandin said it is important to look for things that might cause alarm for livestock moving through working facilities. Things like shadows, flapping objects and people standing in sight.

When livestock hesitate, Grandin cautioned not to immediately start pushing them harder.

“Give the leader the opportunity to put its head down and take a look. If you just push, they are going to turn back on you,” Grandin stated.

She also advised producers to utilize animal’s flight zones and flags, to move cattle efficiently. When working with flight zones, it is important for handlers to be standing in the right location, she added.

“First thing you have to make sure you don’t do is stand at the head and poke the butt,” Grandin said. “I don’t know how many times I’ve seen people doing it.”

According to her, it’s also important for handlers to be calm and not scare livestock, when animals are scared, they stick together.

“People get way to excited when trying to move animals — yelling, screaming, flapping. The first thing you’ve got to do is calm down,” Grandin said.

“When you’re calm, you can reach in there and turn the animal. If it’s totally freaked out and scared, they’ll want to stand together. “

Grandin recognized that at times, an electric prod is needed, but very rarely.

“The only time you should use one is to get cattle out of the squeeze chute that won’t leave,” she said.

Once the animal is out, immediately put the prod down so it doesn’t get misused.

When working with different livestock handling facilities, Grandin has found several tricks to make things more efficient.

She warned producers of what she likes to call the ‘black hole effect.’ This is when animals don’t want to enter into a dark working facility, because they can’t see what they are going into.

“Animals have a tendency to go from dark to light,” she stated.

According to Grandin, the best way for producers to get animals moving through the ‘black hole’ is to have visible light at the other end.

“Open a door on the other side to let in daylight,” she said. “Or you can put in white translucent free panels, so they see shadow free daylight.”

Another common problem with cattle handling is not having enough chute space for cattle to keep flowing.

“One really simple thing you can do, to update a facility without using a lot of money, is to have enough single file chute length,” she stated. “If your single file chute can only hold two head of cattle, you can’t get any more to follow. By adding some panels, it can now hold four cattle.”

If more cattle are able to be flowing through the chute, the others will follow closely and it will create a calmer, more efficient working facility. She warned producers not to try and send too many at a time because over crowding causes problems.

“One of the secrets to good cattle handling is moving small bunches. The other thing you want to do is use your following lead,“ Grandin said.

She stressed the importance of animals having a good first experience when exposed to something new. For example, if something bad happens to a horse while learning to load in a trailer, it will cause future problems.

“If the first experience is something that ends up bad, you can have a horse who is scared to death of a horse trailer,” she said. “Things that are new are both scary and attractive. They are attractive when you let the animal voluntarily look and they are scary when you force it in their face.”

Grandin’s work comes from her passion of animal welfare — something she uses measurements to evaluate. From body condition score to an animal’s exit speed, Grandin said it’s important for producers to take measurements so improvements can be made.

Recently, Tyson Foods, Inc., announced as of Sept. 6, they would no longer accept cattle fed the beta-agonist zilpaterol, a feed supplement called Zilmax that is marketed by Merck Animal Health. The decision was made for animal welfare reasons. Merck has since temporarily suspended sales in the U.S. and Canada.

In her time spent in packing plants, Grandin has evaluated millions of cattle as they come in. She explained she had no influence on Tyson’s management decision, but she felt it was something that needed attention.

“When beta-agonist starting coming on the market, I started seeing foot problems,” she said. “And then other people at the plant started seeing it.”

Grandin claimed some of the cattle being fed the feed supplement would come into the plant, stiff gaited and sore footed.

“It’s a different type of stiffness and soreness that never occurred before the products were on the market,” Grandin said. “(Cattle) walk as if on hot metal — all the plant people have noticed that too.”

Transparency is something Grandin feels strongly about. She stated agriculture needs to be completely open to the public.

“I think that ag needs to show everything they’re doing,” Grandin said. “It’s a different industry than it was in the ‘80s and ‘90s. “

Links to videos, including one that tours a beef processing plant, can be found on her Website at www. grandin.com. £

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