Temple Grandin: How she changed cattle care

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This Saturday, Feb. 6, when HBO’s " Temple Grandin" airs, farmers and ranchers across the country will be tuning in to honor Grandin’s work in improving the care of cattle. Grandin, living with autism, revolutionized livestock handling by tapping into her ability to see the world in a different way to develop a deeper understanding of animal behavior.

short trailer from the film is available.

“There’s not a rancher in this country that isn’t aware of her work. We have all been influenced by Temple,” says Clint Peck, Director, Beef Quality Assurance at Montana State University. “There is no question her work has helped us all understand more about our animals and how to handle them in a caring and humane manner.”

The beef checkoff-funded Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program sets cattle handling and beef quality standards that are followed throughout the beef production process—from farm to fork—to ensure cattle are receiving proper care.

Temple’s insight into animal behavior and low-stress handling is the foundation of the BQA assessment, which is the scoring system we use to verify cattle are handled properly. Her contributions are monumental,” said Ryan Ruppert, director, Beef Quality Assurance, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. Ruppert attended the Denver premiere of HBO’s Temple Grandin on Wednesday night as a guest of Grandin.

“I thought the movie did a great job capturing the challenges Temple overcame to improve livestock care in food production. What shocked me is how different the beef industry looks today than it did in the 60s and 70s as a result of her perseverance. She is a true pioneer,” said Ruppert.

Grandin’s work has touched every segment of beef production, from the farm to the feedlot and, ultimately, the processing facility.

"Temple Grandin has been a critical resource to Cargill, which has allowed us to continually improve our animal handling facilities and our animal welfare programs," said John Keating, President, Cargill Beef.  Dr. Mike Siemens, Cargill Leader Animal Welfare and Husbandry, added, "Temple's insight and understanding of cattle behavior is truly unique. Her ability and expertise in facility design have been invaluable to the beef industry."

Cargill Beef is the second largest processor in North America and is one of the largest commercial cattle feeders in the United States. Cargill Beef sells fresh meat and other products to virtually every major chain, wholesaler and distributor in the country.

“Our facilities have been designed with Dr. Grandin’s philosophy in mind, and over the years we have continued to improve on this low-stress handling approach. We know these processes work based on how calm and quiet the cattle stay and ultimately how much easier it is for us to get our work done,” said Patsy Houghton, Ph.D. and owner of Heartland Cattle Company in Nebraska.  

Heartland Cattle pioneered the heifer development business in the beef industry.  Heartland’s heifer development and research center has bred more than 71,000 heifers and weaned more than 120,000 calves since its inception in 1990.  

“When cattle arrive at one of our feedyards, they are moved through areas that are signature Temple Grandin, like the curved chute, that use the animals’ natural instincts to minimize stress. In fact, several of our processing facilities were built under her direction,” said Mike Thoren, president and chief operating officer for JBS Five Rivers Cattle Feeding, LLC. “Her insights and empathy into animal behavior revolutionized the cattle industry and continue to ensure cattle are handled humanely.”  

Employing more than 650 professionals, JBS Five Rivers is the largest cattle feeder in the world with a combined feeding capacity of more than 839,000 head of cattle with locations in Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Wisconsin, and Ohio

Grandin’s unique understanding of animal behavior is used to teach low-stress handling techniques in feedlots, auction markets, and on farms and ranches across the country through the BQA Stockmanship and Stewardship program.

Temple has been a wonderful advocate for animals and animal agriculture by improving the overall management and well-being of livestock. We take it to the next step and teach cattlemen how to effectively implement procedures to take advantage of the principles she has promoted throughout her career,” says Ron Gill, Associate Department Head for Extension, Animal Science Department, Texas AgriLife Extension. Gill travels the country training livestock handlers in BQA-approved cattle handling techniques.

“We’ve always cared for our cattle but Temple has given us more insight into their behavior. Personally, I have more confidence in how I handle animals because of her work,” says Peck.

Editor’s comments:

By all accounts, the HBO film gets it right in portraying Dr. Grandin, her way of thinking and her approach to livestock handling. I spoke with Temple a couple weeks ago, and while the call was on a different subject, we talked about the upcoming film. And just this morning I heard an interview with Temple on Colorado Public Radio. She says the film’s producers succeeded in illustrating how her autism allows her to “think in pictures” and gain a unique understanding of animals.

She also says Claire Danes, in the title role, delivers a remarkable performance. “She became me,” Grandin says. Danes spent hours with Grandin, and studied video and audio tapes of her earlier career. She worked with voice and motion coaches to master Grandin’s mannerisms and speech. Temple says it was almost spooky when Danes put on a wig, donned Temple’s signature western clothing and transformed herself into Temple Grandin of the 1970s.

Grandin also notes the producers built accurate replicas of cattle-handling facilities and equipment using her early designs.

Anyone in the livestock business will want to see this tribute to one of our industry’s most compelling and influential personalities.

--John Maday, managing editor of Drovers, a sister publication of Dairy Herd Management

 





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