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Temple Grandin’s Straight Talk

Published: 6/29/2012
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By Maddy Butcher

Maybe it’s her autism.
Maybe it’s from growing up with animals.

Either way, Temple Grandin is a refreshingly straight talker.
There was no sugar coating when she spoke at Pineland Farms earlier this summer. A group of organizations including the state Department of Agriculture, Pineland, the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, and the Maine Grass Farmers Network, teamed up to sponsor the talk.
The audience of farmers, animal welfare advocates, and some with an interest in autism, packed the room at Pineland Center.
As autism becomes an increasingly hot topic, Grandin said that arena “could take over my life if I let it.” She spoke to a much larger crowd about autism later that afternoon in Portland. Yet she remains firmly committed to her livestock work.
[Photo at right by Meris Bickford]

“She didn’t want to come to Maine unless she could talk with livestock people,” said Ben Hartwell, vice-president of the non-profit Maine Grass Farmers Network and owner of Sebago Lake Ranch.
In working with slaughter plants, Grandin has transformed the way millions of heads of cattle and other animals are handled. Humane treatment is prioritized and monitored at a whole new level thanks to her. Gone are such ineffective, nebulous terms such as "Properly," "Adequate," "Sufficient," and Undue Pain and Suffering.”

“What does that mean?” she asked rhetorically.

Instead, as a result of her research and lobbying, plants and handlers are scored on the percentage of animals that run, fall, vocalize, and move by a electric prod.
 “The things I do are going to make the world a better place,” she said. “I get excited about real change in the real world.”
The biggest selling point? Research shows good stockmanship pays. Everyone wins when animals are stressed as little as possible.
Or, as Hartwell noted of her methods, “it’s not only more humane, more efficient, and less stressful. It’s more profitable.”

Highlights of her talk:

•    Animals worry whenever there is a change in the floor - dirt to metal, metal to concrete, shadow to reflection. Give the animal a chance to put its head down and look.
•    When animals are calm, they will stop and look at things. If they’re stressed, you won’t see them do that.
•    Don’t pat animals, stroke them.
•    A two-hour ride will calm down an animal more than a one-hour ride. Bumpy roads are stressful.
•    Calm animals are easier to handle.  Screaming and yelling is really stressful to animals. Screaming and yelling versus gate slamming? Animals know the difference. They know the screaming and yelling is directed at them.
•    Whites of the eyes, nostrils flaring, tail swishing – you want to be able to see these signs that the animal is stressed.
•    All grazing animals need to be in social group. How we raise them is how they get problematic.
•    Sheep are super followers. “It’s like siphoning water,” Grandin said. “They flow.”
•    Calm animals gain more weight.
•    Dairy cows decrease milk production if they’re being yelled at and hit.
•    Lone animal will run over you. Work them in groups of threes or so.
•    New things are attractive when an animal is allowed to voluntarily approach it and scary when they are suddenly or forcefully introduced.
•    There is different baggage for animals who’ve been rescued. Starved horses don’t have fear memories. But abused horses do.

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6/29/2012 Linda Cayer
I have read many of Temple Grandin's books. Ihave yet been able to see her. Someday I hope I will. Her books are awesome.
11/9/2012 Sarah
There is a movie about her. Well worth the watch!

"A horse doesn't care how much you know until he knows how much you care." - Pat Parelli