Renowned animal scientist Temple Grandin told livestock ranchers to "open up the door" to the public, to show how ranchers care for their animals.

Grandin, a professor at Colorado State University who has become famous for her animal welfare research and her personal history of autism, spoke Sunday at the California Farm Bureau Federation Annual Meeting in Monterey.

Recently, she was the subject of an Emmy Award-winning HBO movie about her life, which provided mainstream audiences a glimpse of her work in improving the handling of animals on cattle ranches and other livestock facilities.

Grandin described Americans as "hungry for information" about what happens on farms and ranches. She noted the popularity of TV shows such as "Dirty Jobs" and others on trucking and logging that have showcased aspects of agriculture.

"Why are people interested in things like backyard hens? People want to get back to the land," she said. "That's why we need to be showing what we do."

She urged farmers and ranchers to fill that information gap, and to use the Internet as a tool for demonstrating their animal-care practices. For example, she commended a California egg farm that has begun streaming live video of its chickens online.

"Most of the public is just curious," Grandin said. "We need to be opening up the door and showing the things that we do."

That includes, she said, showing everyday farm activities such as dishing up feed or putting out bedding for dairy cows.

"What you would consider mundane, normal stuff, the public wants to look at that," Grandin said. "Put it up and show it. It doesn't have to be some fancy thing. If you don't know how to put it up on YouTube, your kids will know how to put it up."

Grandin has developed animal-welfare auditing programs for restaurants and food retailers including McDonald's, Burger King and Whole Foods, and has created animal-handling systems designed from the animal's point of view, to help them remain calm as they're being moved to market.

"When I first started, I thought I could fix everything with engineering," she said. "What I've found is I can only fix half of things with engineering; the other half is management."

Grandin encouraged farmers and ranchers to observe their animals carefully, adding that "good stockmanship pays" in improved animal health, milk production and meat quality.

She said animals are sensory-based and think in pictures, so tiny details that humans may not notice, such as light, shadows and hanging objects, could cause animals to balk and impede their movement.

Sometimes simple changes to a facility could mean huge improvements, she said. They include eliminating some of those visual distractions and providing nonslip floors, because animals panic when they begin to fall.

She also emphasized using an animal's natural behavior to aid in their handling, which is why she has designed chutes that are curved, because "animals have a natural tendency to want to go back to where they came from."

There should be clear guidelines and ways to measure good handling, she added. Therefore, an auditing system is needed "to make sure bad things are not going on."

"I'm not telling you how to build a plant. I'm telling you that you have to have certain outcomes," she said.

But she said she's concerned about what she calls "abstractification"--government and politics becoming more focused on ideology rather than finding solutions. She said the younger generation is interested in environmental issues and animal welfare, but they're becoming lawyers.

"We're going to sue stuff. But that doesn't solve problems," she said. "You've got to figure out, how do we actually solve problems on the ground?"

Source: The California Farm Bureau Federation