How One Of Our Colleagues Changed The Bovine World

Temple Grandin is a professor at Colorado State University, she lectures on animal handling.

After stumbling upon the excellent movie “Secretariat,” I came across another amazing movie: “Temple Grandin.” Here are some highlights.

In 1966, Temple spent the summer of her aunt’s farm in Arizona. She was rather distraught by the way cows were being guided toward a chute: they were beaten, yelled at, poked at. This obviously led to mightily stressed cows. But the second they were squeezed in a chute, they seemed to relax. “It gentles them," as a wrangler told Temple. So she built a "squeeze machine," also called a “hug machine.”

It is believed that pressure soothes nervousness by releasing molecules, such as endorphins. Interestingly, swaddling babies, using pressure vests in kids with special needs or putting a Thundershirt on a pet, all stem from the same concept: constant, gentle pressure seems to have a calming effect.

In 1970, when Temple Grandin observed cattle being treated for parasites in a “dip” at a feedlot in Arizona, she was horrified that one to two drowned out of every 300 animals treated. After researching the topic, she invented a new design with a gentle, sloped, grooved ramp going down, followed by the dip and another grooved ramp going up. In this device, cows were calm, safe and stayed alive.

Encouraged by her findings, Temple vouched to improve slaughterhouses.

Clearly, redesigning older, inefficient systems was going to cost money but, as Temple Grandin put it, “what's good for cattle is good for business.” She once asked the following questions to a slaughterhouse owner:

  • “How much does it cost to pay handlers to prod the cows? Or hold them back when they stampede?”
  • “How many times a day does your chute stop because of a pile-up?”
  • “How many cows break a leg and bring everything to a halt?”

Her system eliminated all of these glitches at slaughterhouses. She realized that a shadow, a puddle of water (or urine) reflecting the sun, clothes dangling in the wind, anything can scare cows. The new system enabled a steady, calm flow of cattle, meandering through curved alleyways, peacefully walking to their death.

Is that cruel? After watching movies of big cats eviscerating their prey, Temple believed that “Nature is cruel, but we don't have to be.” And if we’re going to raise cattle specifically to feast on their flesh, then “we owe them some respect.”

These days, Temple Grandin is a professor of animal science at Colorado State University. She lectures worldwide on animal handling. In North America, over half the cattle are handled in humane systems she has designed.

In her early years, through various schools and life experiences, Temple Grandin had been rejected, humiliated, ridiculed, bullied and ostracized. I don't know where these bullies are and what they became, but Temple Grandin obtained a master's and a Ph.D. in animal science, and went on to make the world a better place. Some of her achievements include:

  • Being considered as the world’s leading expert on the welfare of cattle and pigs
  • Appearing on the 2010 “Time 100” list of the 100 most influential people in the world
  • Being a best-selling author
  • Getting an honorary degree from the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph
  • Receiving the 2012 Shomer award from the Society for Veterinary Medical Ethics

Oh, I almost forgot… the amazing Temple Grandin happens to be autistic. She also travels the world to lecture on the topic.

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