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Grandin: Keep cattle calm

Temple Grandin is carefully considering a specific bull behavior described to her at a recent veterinary conference in Sioux City. She listens intently and asks a series of questions before rendering a judgment. She needs to know how old the bull is, if he is alone in a pen, whether he was a bottle calf or raised naturally, how much he vocalizes, whether he paws or tosses his head, and

Grandin: Keep cattle calm

Temple Grandin is carefully considering a specific bull behavior described to her at a recent veterinary conference in Sioux City. She listens intently and asks a series of questions before rendering a judgment. She needs to know how old the bull is, if he is alone in a pen, whether he was a bottle calf or raised naturally, how much he vocalizes, whether he paws or tosses his head, and if he exhibits an aggressive behavior known as “the broad-side threat.”

“That’s when a bull will hunch up in the front end, put his head down and show his profile,” Grandin explains. “He’s showing you how big and intimidating he is. A bull like that can be dangerous and needs to go.”

This bull has never exhibited the broad-side threat and was raised by his dam, not bottle-fed, which Grandin said can lead to behavioral problems when a bull matures and is no longer a pet. The bull is 18 months old and raised with other cattle, but is now alone in a run waiting to be turned out on a fall cow herd. He bellers frequently, paws occasionally and rushes up to the fence when humans approach.

Grandin processes the information, and asks: “When he runs up to you, does he kind of hop and skip?”

Answer: “Yes.”

Grandin responds, shaking her head: “No, that bull’s not dangerous. He’s just young and playful and bored. It’s time to turn him out with the cows.”

If anyone can help producers understand whether an animal is stressed and potentially dangerous, or merely bored and playful, it’s Temple Grandin. Not only has she been studying livestock behavior most of her life, but also in many ways she thinks like them — “in pictures.” Grandin said she is a visual thinker, as are cattle and other animals.

Overcoming obstacles

Born in 1947, Grandin was diagnosed with autism at age 2, which in those days was considered a form of brain damage. We now know that with proper training, understanding and handling, autistic children, like the young Mary Temple Grandin, can learn and succeed. Grandin teaches that proper handling of livestock also results in positive outcomes.

Grandin’s autistic brain processes sights and sounds differently from most people, but not unlike the way cattle respond to unfamiliar noises and influences. Through years of study and perseverance, Grandin earned bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. She is considered the most famous and accomplished person with autism in the world. Her life is chronicled in the Emmy-winning HBO biopic, “Temple Grandin,” and she was named one of Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in 2010.”

Expert in animal handling

The world-renowned animal scientist spoke in Sioux City on Oct. 2 to veterinarians and technicians at the 100th annual meeting of the Lewis and Clark Veterinary Conference, sponsored by the Interstate Veterinary Medical Association, which comprises Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and South Dakota.

“Dr. Grandin is the leading expert in animal handling and animal stockmanship,” said Bruce Tabke, a veterinarian from Marcus who serves as president of the association. “She’s very well-known, and since this was our 100th meeting, we wanted to do something special. Animal handling is a very germane topic right now, especially with all the facilities that have gone up and people wanting to know how best to design them.”

The unique way Grandin views the world allows her to predict how animals will respond to various situations. For decades, she has been sharing her insight with livestock handlers from all phases of the industry, from birth to slaughter. Grandin earned her doctorate in animal science from the University of Illinois in 1989 and is a professor of animal science at Colorado State University, Fort Collins, as well as a consultant and designer of livestock handling facilities.

She asserted that safe, humane livestock treatment is advantageous to everyone and everything involved — from the animal to the producer to the consumer. First, she believes it is the human’s responsibility to treat animals calmly and humanely. Livestock do feel pain, period, she emphasized.

“Why would anyone think they don’t? Of course, they feel pain.” And the healthier and less stressed the animal is, the more value to the producer and the more high-quality meat for the consumer. “Everyone comes out ahead,” Grandin said.

Tabke agrees that calm and safe handling are critical, in addition to selecting for disposition. “Every day I see that the cattle that are handled quietly do better,” he said. “We also need to be addressing this from a genetics standpoint. Disposition is heritable, and it’s as much a problem within breeds as it is between breeds. It’s the seedstock producer’s responsibility to be selecting for good dispositions.”

Aim for optimum

The most serious issue facing the meat and dairy industries, and one that Grandin is “very concerned” about, is biological system overload. “You push the animal too far, and they fall apart. We have to start looking at the optimal thing to do, not the maximum,” she said. “The cattle people are starting to make the same mistakes the hog industry made 30 to 40 years ago. We are repeating the mistakes of the ’70s and ’80s, and I’m really worried about this.”

Grandin cited lameness as a widespread problem in the livestock industry, some of which is due to environment and some to genetics. Chronic lameness stems from a variety of bad conditions throughout the animal’s life, including overfeeding to force rapid growth, overcrowding, toe abscesses and other injuries resulting from bad flooring and agitated cattle, feeding of beta agonists, and wet, muddy feedlots that Grandin referred to as “disgusting slop holes.”

“Lameness is long-term chronic pain,” she stressed. “Yes, castration hurts, but they do get over it. Some of these lame cattle are living with this for a long, long time. It’s torture for them.”

The issue of flooring and housing, whether for cattle, hogs or poultry, is of grave concern to Grandin, who travels worldwide to work with producers and the industry on solutions.

Grandin has seen examples in other countries of indoor cattle with widespread lameness, and she sternly warns the U.S. industry to not let this happen in confinement operations here.

“They are taking a 400-pound calf and feeding it to 900 pounds or more indoors on this hot feed, and they don’t have enough bedding, and they end up with big, swollen legs that stick straight out. It does not work!

“Well-drained pens where the surfaces are maintained can provide a good environment for cattle,” she added.

Leonard writes from Holstein.

A proper environment

To provide that good environment for cattle, animal expert Temple Grandin recommends the following:

Put rubber on wide slats, with quality concrete work, or provide adequate bedding.

Don’t feed cattle hot rations with excessive levels of concentrates.

Don’t feed beta agonists during hot weather.

Don’t put on more than 400 pounds of gain on bare concrete slats, unless concentrates and beta agonists are reduced.

Evaluate cattle for lameness.

Biological system overload will be the result if these recommendations are not followed, she says. “You put a 400-pound calf in there and push it up over 1,000 pounds, it’s going to fall apart.”


MESSAGE: Livestock handling expert Temple Grandin spoke to the annual meeting of the Interstate Veterinary Medical Association recently in Sioux City. She says safe, humane livestock treatment is advantageous to everyone involved from the animal to consumer.

This article published in the November, 2014 edition of WALLACES FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2014.

Animal Health

Beef Herd Management

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