Writer: Blair Fannin, 979-845-2259, firstname.lastname@example.org
COLLEGE STATION – When it comes to handling livestock, observing the little things can make for a more pleasant experience – both for the animal and the livestock, according to Dr. Temple Grandin, Colorado State University professor and animal scientist.
“I stress to students the need to be observant,” said Grandin, who has advised ranchers, feedlots and meat plants throughout the U.S. and Canada on handling equipment as well as developing animal welfare guidelines for the meat industry.
Grandin gave a lecture Aug. 14 to Texas A&M University’s department of animal science faculty. Grandin also was the commencement speaker and received an honorary doctoral degree from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences during Friday’s graduation ceremonies at Texas A&M in College Station.
“I’m a visual thinker, and it’s all about the details when it comes to cattle and horses and what they are afraid of,” she told faculty members. “It’s the little things.”
Such things as a dangling chain in a loading chute or dogs roaming around the holding pen and chute – all can make livestock frightened and hard to handle for producers.
Grandin, who is autistic and was the subject of an Emmy award-winning HBO documentary in 2010, said her condition has helped her get a better understanding of animals’ sensitivities to bright light, sudden movements and strange objects.
Grandin said much unwanted cattle behavior can be avoided if basic livestock handling practices are followed.
Research has shown that yelling and whistling will elevate the animals’ heart rate, Grandin said.
“Never surprise an animal,” she added.
With cattle prices at historic highs, Grandin said, many ranchers are shipping calves with little or no preconditioning. Many are penning and loading sale-weight calves onto the trailer for the first time without any pre-conditioning programs.
“With prices high, calves are being weaned on trucks,” she said.
That makes it even more difficult to eliminate stress on calves as they are sold off of ranches and transferred to feedlot operators and other segments of the beef industry, Grandin said.
Many have never been exposed to handlers on foot, horseback or both, she said.
The simplest advice on handling animals, according to Grandin: “Don’t get animals excited in the first place.”