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Wednesday, 08 February 2012 10:47

Temple Grandin still designing facilities to help cattle handling

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By Jamie Woodford
Keeping cows stress-free doesn’t have to be complicated, just ask Temple Grandin.

The renowned professor of agricultural sciences at Colorado State University has spent most of her career researching and designing livestock handling facilities to help reduce animal stress during handling, which in turn produces better meat.

“Sometimes people just don’t think of things that are just basic things,” she said. “I remember one place I went to, the cattle wouldn’t enter the chute, and the problem was that the gate was jiggling. Well, the manager’s knocking himself on the head going ‘Why didn’t I see that?’”

Grandin was the keynote speaker at the “Cattle-Gate to Dinner Plate” Tiffin Conference held in Lethbridge in January to spread the word of her practical animal handling methods.

“Very simple things like non-slip flooring. That sounds like something that’s just so simple, but people don’t do it,” she said in an interview prior to her presentation. “I’ve been to places the floor is a skating rink and you wonder why the animal won’t stay still? Things like not having them look out onto the slaughter floor, things like lighting up the chutes so it’s not too dark. There’s a lot of very, very simple things you can do.”

She said cattle handlers need to put themselves in the cow’s shoes, or hoofs in this case. Simple distractions such as sparking reflections on puddles, jiggling chains, clanging metal, hissing air, even a small object on the floor like a coffee cup or a piece of clothing hanging on a fence can stress a cow on its way to be slaughtered, and that’s not a good thing.

“The less stressed the animal you’re more likely to have more tender meat. But animals really stressed in the last five minutes — that last five minutes is very important and you can end up with tough meat, if you stress ‘em out in the last five minutes,” Grandin said.

So why don’t handlers take these things into account?

“People don’t pay attention to details of management,” she said, adding the best way to ensure everything is running smoothly is to measure different aspects of the operation.

“I’m a big proponent of objective scoring system and you can score things like how many cattle did you shoot on the first shot? If you’re doing a good job, it should be 95 per cent. How many cattle fell down during handling? That should be one per cent or less,” she said.

Grandin developed an objective scoring system for assessing the handling of cattle and pigs at meat plants.

“It’s just like if the police didn’t keep measuring speeding everybody would be going way too fast on a motor way. You’ve got to keep measuring it,” she said.

“Another measurement you can do is vocalization. How much the pigs are squealing? How much of the cattle are mooing in the storing area?”

She said cows vocalize their fear, much like humans will when they’re afraid.

“Things that can make them moo like electric prods or slamming gates on ‘em, those are all things that can make them moo and if you’ve got a lot of mooing going on you’ve got problems. Mooing in cattle and squealing in pigs is related to measures of stress. It’s the cortisol.”

Grandin is no stranger to Lethbridge. She has visited the city four or five times.

“I’ve been there several times. I remember going to Lethbridge in the ‘70s when they had those plants there in Lethbridge and working with them,” she said. 

Her practical approach to animal welfare has received accolades from around the world. Her curved chute and race system designs have been used in North America, Europe, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand.

According to her website,, almost half of the cattle in North American meat plants are handled in a center track restrainer system designed by Grandin.

Her interest in agriculture was sparked when she was 15 while visiting her aunt’s ranch. The story of Grandin’s life as a teenager and her road to agriculture was made into an HBO movie that received seven Emmy Awards in 2010 and a Golden Globe award in 2011.

The author of more than 400 articles and several book, Grandin, a person with high functioning autism is also known for her work in autism advocacy.

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