Interview with Dr. Temple Grandin

Rincker Law Ag-vocacy, Food & Ag Law, Food & Ag Organizations, Interviews, Social Media and Technology 2 Comments

I took this picture during graduate school at the University of Illinois Beef Research Farm

I have previously noted on this blog my admiration for Dr. Temple Grandin as an animal scientist.  She truly is an extraordinary woman and has done so much for the livestock industry.  Last night, I was reading National Cattlemen’s Beef Association‘s (“NCBA”)Beef Issues Quarterly for Fall 2010 and on Page 23 there is a great interview with Dr. Temple Grandin.  I posted a few excerpts below that complement some of my previous posts/articles.

Dr. Jason Ahola:  Dr. Grandin, you’ve worked with the beef cattle industry on animal care and handling for years.  Can you tell me mroe about the changes you’ve seen over time?

Dr. Grandin:  Since I started out in the 70’s, I’ve seen a lot of improvements. * * * You see it in things like low-stress handling workshops; you didn’t have that before.  There’s a lot more awareness today.  The good sector of the industry- the people who are doing a good job-has expanded. * * * I feel very strongly about the industry’s communication with the public.  People in agriculture haven’t done a good job of communicating what they do.  I think ranchers need to be putting videos up on the Web of just the normal chores out on the ranch. * * *

I have previously raved of my love for social media on this blog (both as an attorney and agriculture woman) and how important “agvocacy” is both on- and off-line (but see this post regarding balancing technology and tradition).  In the last few years, we (the agriculture industry) keep hear how consumers want to “hear our story” — so much so that some of us are tired of hearing about how we need to “tell our story.”  But it is so important for the future of the agriculture industry.  When I have conversations with urban consumers in New York City do not like to buy meat products from “factory farms” I ask them what could be done to change their impression of the meat industry.  Time and time again I hear “I want to hear the story of the cattle producer who brings in his calf in the middle of the blizzard” or “I want to meet the sheep producers that care for their lambs on Christmas morning” or even “I want to understand that the animals are chickens being taken care of properly.”

I took this picture in the Sandhills of Nebraska while interning with the American Simmental Association

Not only can social media add transparency of your farm/ranch but it also helps generate a positive public image.  Livestock producers need to pay attention both to their brand/public image but also to their relationship with the consumer.  It can be one of the several necessary defensive moves against livestock animal cruelty charges.  For those of you who are just getting started with social media, I have posted the NCBA Young Producer Council (“YPC”) social media guides in this previous post.

Dr. Jason Ahola:  Based on your work and the changes you’ve seen, do you think animal welfare is a priority for cattle farmers and ranchers?

Dr. Grandin:  * * * I think we have to look at everything that we do and say, “If I brought my New York wedding guests out, what would they think?”  I can take people to our big packing plants here in Colorado and have them watch cattle going up the chute, and they say, “Wow, I just can’t believe they’re going so calmly up the chute.  This isn’t so bad.” * * * Simple changes to facilities . . . can make a huge difference.

I recently spoke to a group of livestock producers on livestock animal cruelty law in New York.  One of the recommendations that I gave to those folks were to walk/drive around their farm and make note of all the “broken windows.”  “Broken windows” are the things that you see all the time but never notice.  I first heard this term from my pastor when I lived in Wyoming.  If a lay person from the public would come to your farm today, what would they see?  Are there any “broken windows” on your farm/ranch that need fixed to make sure you are putting your livestock operation with the best foot forward?  Are you participating in voluntary animal welfare programs and bragging about this involvement online?  Pay attention to public perception.  Make sure you are doing the “simple changes” to your facilities that make a big difference.

Dr. Jason Ahola:  Obviously you’ve seen the main concern for farmers and ranchers is proper care and welfare for animals.  I think the average farmer or rancher with a hundred head is also facing tough economic times.  What do you recommend for those folks as the single most important thing they should be doing to make a difference for animal care when working cattle?

Dr. Grandin:  Calm down.  You’ve got to calm down.  There are a lot of low-stress handling techniques but you can’t learn any of that stuff if you don’t calm down.  And then you’ve got to make sure that in the squeeze chute and coming out of the squeeze chute you’ve got non-slip flooring, because animals panic and fall down when they slip. * * * There are places for fancy things.  Large feedyards and large ranches where you have a lot of employee turnover is a place for fancy facilities.  But a small ranch can really make do with rudimentary facilities, especially if you calm down. * * *

What I love about this answer from Dr. Grandin is that #1 thing that cattle handlers can do from an animal welfare standpoint is to “calm down” and pay attention to their demeanor when working livestock.  This doesn’t cost a thing- maybe just a little more time for being calm and patient when cattle aren’t behaving the way they should.  Even so, I still recommend that livestock producers work with an extension specialist to make sure they are using the proper equipment and facilities to lower stress.  However, I love that Grandin points out that “calming down” is the most important animal handling technique.

For those of you who are NCBA members, I encourage you to read her full interview in your Beef Issues Quarterly.  She’s one brilliant woman with common sense and a heart for the livestock industry.  I was able to meet her for the first time last year at a book-signing in New York City.  She was a little confused how a cattle girl ended up in the Big City…

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