Temple Grandin – Revolutionizing livestock handling
February 24, 2009
Temple Grandin, PhD (Assistant Professor of Animal Sciences, Colorado State University) is one of the world’s foremost authorities on livestock facility design and humane livestock handling. The most unusual thing about her accomplishments is that she is autistic. As a child she did not talk until she was 3 1/2 years old and in 1950 her parents were told she should be institutionalized. Eventually, however, she found a mentor who recognized her abilities and interests. What was originally considered an impairment became an asset in her life work. Her inner understanding and empathy for how animals perceive their world, react, and cope enabled her to improve the way we handle them. Autism helps her to see things as animals do, and has given her a unique perspective.
Her writings about cattle handling, flight zone and principles of grazing behavior have helped many stockmen reduce stress on their animals, and her cattle facility and curved chute designs are used worldwide. She has developed objective scoring systems for assessing livestock handling and more humane slaughter systems. Her many areas of research include cattle temperament, reducing dark cutters, effective stunning methods at meat plants, genetics and behavior of domestic animals, safe handling of cattle and horses, and restraint. She teaches courses on livestock behavior and facility design and consults with the livestock industry on design, handling and animal welfare.
“When I first started working on these things back in the early 1970’s, people thought I was crazy. One of the first things I noticed was that cattle would go through some facilities very readily and in other facilities were balking. I would get down in the chute and realize that they were seeing shadows, or looking directly into the sun, or there was a coat on the fence or a chain hanging down, or something else distracting them,” says Grandin. The people working cattle were not taking these things into consideration.
“I began designing facilities, and did some of my first ones in 1974 and 1976. One reason I wanted to make the chutes curved is because as the cattle are entering the chute they can’t see all the people and commotion down at the other end. Also, cattle have a tendency to try to go back the way they came from. A curved chute takes advantage of that tendency,” she says.
During the past 3 decades her facility designs have become standard for many livestock feed yards. “A lot of people ask me why my curved layouts are so spread out and big. Chutes don’t work very well if you jam cattle up too tightly,” she explains.
“There are a lot of curved facilities out there that don’t work, and the reason why they don’t work is because the cattle are jammed in too tight and the corners are too sharp, or they dead end at the squeeze chute. One thing that’s very important is that as an animal is standing in the crowding pen, looking up the curved chute, he must see that there’s a place to go. If it dead-ends at the squeeze chute, and that’s what he sees, that’s the worst mistake you can make. Also you want to lay out a round crowd pen so the cattle are coming around the bend, and you can use their inclination to want to go back where they came from,” she says.
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She also stresses the fact that people need to stay calm when handling cattle. “A calm animal is always easier to handle than a scared, excited one. When we can get people to calm down, stop screaming and yelling, and stop using electric prods, cattle can be worked easier. People should not be carrying electric prods around. Those should only be picked up if you have an animal that absolutely refuses to go into the squeeze chute. Another tip is to only fill the crowd pen half full,” says Grandin.
“I always want people to measure their handling. So often I’ve gone out and worked with people and they get their handling really nice, and I come back a year later and they’ve reverted back to their old rough ways. I call that bad becoming normal. The only way to prevent that is to measure handling. If you put 100 cattle through the chute, how many fell down? It shouldn’t be more than 1 percent–otherwise you have a slippery floor or are getting them too excited. How many cattle ran into something like a gate or a fence? How many did you use your electric prod on? How many cattle are bawling when you catch them in the squeeze chute? If they are bawling, you are either hurting them or they are very upset. Obviously, if you are branding them they are going to bawl. But otherwise, you should be able to bring them up the single file alley and catch them in the squeeze chute without any vocalization and direct response to the squeeze chute or prod. You can measure this.” If you keep track of these things and put a number on it, you can tell if your handling is improving or reverting back to bad.
“One of my biggest frustrations has been to teach people how to do it correctly and then have them slip backward. About 20 percent of people learn it well and can keep their handling methods good, but most of them lapse back gradually, and it can be so gradual they don’t realize it’s happening. So you have to keep track,” she says.
“Another thing is that you want cattle to exit the chute walking or trotting. How many went faster? I call those speeders. How many speeders did you have, coming out of the squeeze chute? The simplest way to measure exit speed is by whether they are walking or trotting versus running or jumping. You can easily count how many speeders you had. I want most of them at a walk or a trot, and I want that measured. This is what I’m most adamant about now; I want handling measured, with people keeping track of it with numbers. Then they can tell if their handling is getting better or worse,” she says. This is the only way to monitor handling, except for the people who really want to learn stockmanship and take it seriously, focusing on it all the time.
“Most people are not willing to take time to learn the fine points of stockmanship. But if people get the animals scared and excited, it takes 20 minutes or longer for those animals to calm down. It would save time to go slowly, and not get them all scared and excited,” she says.
“Some people are such good stockmen that they don’t need good corrals, but a good facility helps, and also helps keep people from getting hurt. Safety is another reason to have a good design. Many people get hurt by cattle, if they get the cattle excited,” she says.
Another thing people don’t always understand is that cattle differentiate between a person on a horse and a person on the ground. It’s very important that cattle learn how to work with both. “There’s nothing worse than cattle coming into a meat packing plant with no prior experience of people on foot. I have seen this, where even at the feedyard everything was done on horseback”even bringing them into the vaccinating chute area. Then when cattle go to the packing plant they freak out when they see people on foot, and it can be very dangerous.”
for temple grandin’s facility designs and other cattle handling information, visit at her website: http://www.grandin.com. she also has videos on youtube. one of those describes the right and wrong way to lay out handling facilities. she has written several books including her most recent humane livestock handling (2008), thinking in pictures, animals in translation (which was a new york times best seller), and her textbook livestock handling and transport.