Temple Grandin discusses livestock handling systems at 2011 AMI Conference
November 4, 2011
Temple Grandin, Ph.D., was a featured speaker at the American Meat Institute (AMI) Foundation Animal Care and Handling Conference on Oct. 19, in Kansas City, MO. Speaking to meat industry professionals, retailers, inspectors, graders and ranchers, Grandin’s presentation was titled, “ABCs of Cattle,” and she discussed ways to incorporate humane and economically viable handling practices in the beef industry.
“When I first got started, I thought I could fix everything with equipment. Well, that’s only half the equation; management is the other half,” said Grandin in her opening statement. Grandin has worked extensively setting up auditing systems for beef and pork plants.
“You manage what you measure, and to maintain high standards in animal handling, it requires continuous measurement,” she explained. “Handling quality can be maintained by regular audits of your handling practices with an objective numerical scoring system. This prevents bad practices from becoming normal. I want to get back to doing practical things on the ground. I developed auditing systems for McDonald’s and Wendy’s, and if they get more than 95 percent on the audit, they pass.”
In 1996, only 30 percent of packing plants could pass the stunning test, according to Grandin. Now in 2011, 100 percent pass, meaning more than 95 percent or more cattle are stunned on the first try.
“An automatic failure in my book is starting a dressing procedure on an animal showing sensibility,” she added. “Any other acts of abuse like dragging conscious animals, intentionally prodding sensitive parts, or deliberately slamming gates on animals aren’t tolerated in my audits.”
Questions Grandin ask in the audit include: What percentage of animals are rendered insensible on the first try? What percentage of animals are prodded with an electric prod? What percentage of animals vocalize when put into a stun box? Grandin fails those who have three out of 100 calves that moo. What percentage of animals slip or fall when moving through the chute?
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Her advice can be applied to packing plants, feedlot facilities and cow-calf operations. She tells producers not to feel like they have to make big investments in new facilities to be better animal handlers.
“You don’t have to invest a lot in new equipment or facilities; you would be amazed at what I can do with duct tape, portable lights, zip cords and card board,” Grandin said. “A good facility means proper lighting, ventilation, non-slip floors and solid sides. Sometimes very simple changes can make all the difference.”
Grandin believes in transparency in the feedlot and packing business, and she often places videos on YouTube, where she shows animal handling practices frequently used in the industry. She offered trouble-shooting advice for beef producers to solve potential issues with simple fixes.
“Distractions can cause bulking, and slick floors cause agitation in the animals; this is especially huge in unloading ramps,” she said. “Ask yourself if your problems are facility design-related or if there are issues with employee training. This can help identify where you might need to start making improvements first. Most common distractions in animal handling facilities are reflections on water or metal, air blowing toward approaching cattle, moving people and equipment, a dark chute entrance, or shadows and high contrast lighting.”
Simply stated, calm cattle are easier to handle. Grandin explained that when cattle become fearful or excited, they are much harder to work with.
“If you can see the whites of their eyes, cattle are typically scared,” she said. “We want to see cattle with soft, brown eyes as they work through our facilities. That means they are calm. Causes of increased stress may be overuse of the electric prod, missed stuns, excessive pressure from restraining device, sharp edges on restrainer devices, being isolated from the group or slipping.”
When improving employee handling methods, the best advice Grandin offered was, “Really good cattle handling means more walking for the employee. Respect the flight zone and blind spots on cattle. Use pressure and release to get them to go where needed. Move cattle in small bunches and don’t overcrowd the receiving pen.”
Grandin was well-received at the AMI conference, and her work on animal handling methods in the U.S. beef industry is highly acclaimed. For additional information on her work, visit http://www.grandin.com.