The HBO’s movie a few years ago about Temple Grandin was inspiring and helped to share her experience with people who didn’t understand her gift or in my mind how cattle behave. Side note: these were cowboys who did not have the benefit of hindsight like I do, so I do not hold any grudges against them for not following a young autistic girl. To their credit, most of those people and the industry have changed, as that girl has shown herself to be correct.
I think when we look at stress in cattle, we have to look at individual operations rather than looking at specific sectors. Ten years ago, packing plants had more monetary resources and had people like Grandin to design their facilities, so they had an edge in design for humane handling. But progressive producers, feedyards and livestock markets have been quick to pick these methods up, to the point where entities must be compared to one another rather than being compared industry to industry. Last summer, I saw a system at the World Livestock Auctioneer Championship in Greenville, SC, that rivaled any other system – feedlot or packing plant. Cattle moved calmly through the ring with little aid of humans, other than opening gates.
People are more involved in a livestock market or hauling, and thus have more opportunity to cause stress. It all has to do with how cattle are handled and how cattle are loaded. Even in my short years, I have seen a dramatic change in the handling of cattle. More alleys are circular leading to loading or working chutes (allowing cattle to follow the curve as they want to do); more people are trained to handle cattle in a low-stress fashion than ever before. Knowledge is power, and information is flowing down the beef chain at a record pace. Though some operations struggle with unskilled, uneducated labor that would rather beat cattle than move them easy, I think that is moving to a smaller and smaller percentage.
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