Dr. Temple Grandin: Opening barn doors may be best way to improve agriculture’s image


COLUMBUS — Mention animal behavior or welfare to many in the agriculture sector and one name comes to mind: Dr. Temple Grandin.

Grandin spoke at the second annual Animal Welfare Symposium Nov. 30 at The Ohio State University.

Veterinarians, producers, technicians, officials and others involved in agriculture gathered for the event.

Grandin explained best management practices for humanely handling farm animals and handling ill and compromised animals.


One of the first topics Grandin covered was how important it is to see things from an animal’s perspective. This means get in chutes and other handling equipment and look out to see if there are things that could scare the animals.

“Calm animals are easier to handle than excited, fearful animals,” Grandin said.

Examples given include tying up loose chain ends that could scare animals or putting mats down on flooring so animals don’t slide, which makes them panic.

Another suggestion Grandin had was to search for shadows from an animal’s point of view. She said that sometimes when an animal views a shadow, it impedes movement. She said sunny days are often worse.

Simple renovations

Grandin also told the group that sometimes only simple renovations are needed in order to simplify animal handling. She said sometimes cattle refuse to enter a dark building and suggested skylights or some other type of lighting in the area.

Grandin said she has even used a light tied up with duct tape. A simple solution, she said, but it was cheap, efficient and allowed easier handling of the cattle.

Handling methods

Another idea Grandin shared was using solid fences, explaining they keep animals calmer.

“Solid fences are especially important for animals with a large flight zone,” Grandin said.

Curved fences were also recommended by Grandin. She said they work better than straight ones because animals will turn back in the same direction they came from. When planning layout facilities, she said, remember cattle will want to revert to where they came from so it is important to keep that in mind and allow curves in it.

Grandin suggests using flags to turn animals and said sometimes it is necessary to block vision on one side of an animal so that their flight zone is reduced. They remain calmer using the method, she said.

Another suggestion is to avoid sudden, jerky motions when handling animals and always keep an eye on an animal’s behavior, such as watching the ears on horses.

In addition, use optimal pressure when handling animals, said Grandin. Make sure pressure is not too tight or too loose.

Animal behavior

Grandin also told the crowd that animal handlers have to remember that animals often see things differently. For example, a cow may be used to being handled by a man on a horse so if a handler tries to maneuver it from the ground without the horse it may put stress on the animal.

Measuring management

Grandin also emphasized producers need to have a way to measure what they manage. Most producers want to maintain high standards, she said, but that requires a way to continuously measure what they are doing. Grandin also added that quality can be maintained but regular audits are required. However, this once again means needing a way to measure quality.

“We need to have standards that are realistic,” Grandin explained.

Prohibited practices.

Some practices Grandin said should be stopped include sow gestation stalls, docking dairy cow tails and any type of physical abuse.

She said the idea of gestation crates is defensible for the short term but a new way must be developed.

When questioned about why she was against crates, Grandin said the idea can’t be sold to the public.

“Do you want to go to New York to Barnes and Nobles and defend them?” Grandin said.

Grandin said it’s important to get the message out to improve the public’s perception of animal agriculture.

“If agriculture doesn’t reach across the divide, its going to be in trouble,” Grandin said.

Public viewing

Grandin told the crowd that the best way to improve the image of agriculture is to get the gestation crates out, improve handling methods and then put cameras in barns. She said the best way is to show the public what a farmer does and this can be done easily using the Internet.

“We need to change our practices and then open the barn door. There are no security threats from the Internet,” Grandin said.

Grandin said showing the public feeding livestock and delivering calves or other young livestock would give the public a real image of what happens on a farm.

“People have a hunger for that stuff,” Grandin said as she suggested someone should create a reality television show about it.


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  1. Two things Temple did not address on Tuesday (I was there).
    One: the misconception that perception is reality.
    If ‘perception is reality’ then what is the ethical solution when perception contradicts the objective truth of what is “best” for the health, safety and well being of the animal?
    This is the ethical dilemna that the OLCSB should be struggling with, not whether to follow the “Agreement”.
    Just because Temple says she “can’t sell it” does not equate to being better for the animal.

    Two: “open up our barns” to post on You Tube or the live feed?
    She mentioned the “7% of ‘bad boys'” that log on to her website. They would just love to have names and addresses of farmers to do an ALF type attack on your farm. Am I ashamed of any of our animal husbandry practices? No. I would be happy to show anyone our animals, but it has to have certain safeguards in place to ensure we are not a deliberate target of an anti-livestock sabotage.

    I respect Dr. Grandin. She has provided a great deal of valuable insights to livestock farmers and handlers. But all of the ‘ideals’ do not pay the bills in the real world, nor are those ‘ideals’ necessarily best for the animals that we care for.

  2. Grandin is put upon a pedistal and worshipped by many…However, the more I hear from her, the more I feel people are caught-up in some kind of “blinded-cult following”. I am NOT saying she has nothing good to offer-just that she is human, has human faults, and is certainly NOT the only person on earth that knows about animal behavior.

    Many of us farmers/ranchers are ALREADY aware of behaviors-without thinking about it-and we instinctively utilize this sub-concious knowlege.

    The truth is that Grandin doesnt feed or clean-up after our animals everyday, as we do-and it is easy for her to say how to do things, completely disregarding the value of our time-it doesnt matter to her that it takes another hour or two to get chores done.

    Another area that Grandin bombs out in is our finances. She gets paid a salarie-we get what the market gives-many times below our cost to raise. It is easy for her to say “change this” – at a LARGE cost-when we will not recuperate on the costs afterwards.

    Grandin doesnt milk cows. It is easy to say that docking tails should be banned when you dont milk, but when you milk, and are purposely swatted in the eyes and face by a manure-filled tail, you QUICKLY change your mind about it. Fly spray has evolved to the point of lasting for two or more weeks-completely nullifying the argument about flies, and the cows experience far less pain than castration when tails are docked.

    I find her comment about gestation crates extremely troubling. She obviously knows they are for the best interests for the sow-but is more concerned about public image. Why wont she just come out and tell the public about the vicious behavior of hogs-instead of telling farmers that something must be done BECAUSE of the public image??

    She is also blindly thinking the public is more interested in animal welfare than food costs. I know she has just heard from a VERY FEW concerned with animal welfare, when the vast MAJORITY dont think that animals are raised inhumanely or dont care about animal welfare-and they just want animal products AS CHEAPLY AS POSSIBLE.

    Yes, Grandin may have knowlege of animal behavior, but just because she does, does NOT mean she should be given “free-reign” to dictate how farmers/ranchers should conduct their business. We are the one who struggle to balance ALL aspects of animal care-NOT Grandin.

    • What I find extremely troubling is the closed minds. Ohio needs to do better on animal and human care and forget about the bottom line. It can be done, it just needs an real effort to do it.

      • I agree Mary,we should always be striving to always provide better care for livestock, Mary.
        But we cannot forget about, as you say “the bottom line”. Otherwise we will not be doing it very long.
        It does not have to be one or the other, nor should it be.

    • I agree with everything you have said. While Grandin does have a better understanding of animal behavior than the general public, it appears many aspects of livestock and those raising them were left out. We don’t need another cult following similar to what HSUS has become to puppy and kitten owners. Open dialogue and learning goes two ways. Good results will only come from considering all aspects of livestock operations.

  3. I have heard that she is speaking at SUMMIT OF THE HORSE in Jan. 2011. It is a get together os certain people to bring back horse slaughter plants. Yep she is so concerned for our animals now ain’t she.

    • I would say more concerned than HSUS with a ‘feel good’ act leaving many to starve, shipped to Mexico with far less slaughter oversight and “sanctuaries” full with people losing thier jobs and homes daily. Not wasting an economic resource and using a viable outlet for horses seems more reslistic and helpful than banning horse slaughter. Did you know many zoos feed horse meat? It is healthy and nutritious for carnivores. Just sayin’

  4. the problem with her view on horse slaughter is the plants don’t want your old , neglected, starving horses they want the young, healthy. and pregnate mares. Summit brings up some good points but they and she needs to face the real problem and that is over breeding horses.I hope they get the transport of horses to mexico and canada stoped.and I hope humain slaughter is in her discussion at the meeting on Jan. 3and 4. far as zoo animals go HSUS will get rid of them sooner or later so horse meat won’t be needed for that.

  5. I’m very happy to read some of the comments here regarding Grandin. I am glad there are people that will not follow that latest “cult” as someone correctly called it.

    That said, let those of us who truly know the intended use of a gestation crate defend them. Let us be the ones to speak out about the ills of allowing sows to disfigure each other and fight relentlessly. Grandin cannot defend them simply because she doesn’t understand them, and it is more popular to play to her current “crowd”, then actually state the facts.

    If any of you again have the opportunity to attend a “Grandin fest”, I suggest you ask her straight on what she proposes to replace the gestation crate. If she states group housing, then you all can provide many follow up questions I am sure as to how that will actually decrease animal welfare.

    Praise be for the tremendous cattle handling equipment, but my worship ends there.

  6. Most of the commenters here are exactly why I stopped eating pork six months ago. Here is the country’s leading expert in animal welfare, yet you REFUSE to listen to her advice and dismiss her as a cult! I never thought I could give up bacon, but I am going on six months without eating it, and it’s not because I don’t like it. It’s because I cannot and will not eat meat that comes from animals who spend their lives in misery while the producers absolutely refuse to listen to customer preferences or even to the advice of experts in their own field. It’s ridiculous!! What other industry digs in its heels and refuses to budge in the face of changing societal values and the advice of its experts? None! You people are following a recipe for disaster, and I for one won’t be crying when you put yourselves out of business.

    • Cecil – why do you not raise your own pork if you truly like bacon? Why would you stop eating it when other choices of raising the meat are available through organic and such? Why would you make a statement of “putting out of business” thereby making choices for others? Livestock Ag will not be put out of business based on consumer needs and wants – it is pure AR agenda working to do so. You offer no solution except not eating it, only ill will and your choice is apparent.

  7. You have no idea what farrowing crates actually are. Would you rather a sow be confined for a portion of her life, a small portion at that, or crush her young, kill pigs belonging to other sows, and gift and disfigure said other sows.

  8. Cecilb- Those of us involved in Ag. production only “dig in our heels” when something being proposed reduces the welfare and well-being of our animals. We use science and new technologies constantly to improve our facilities to increase the health and well-being of our animals.

    Do you think a producer would spend $1 million for a new facility versus $50,000 for a little fencing and shelters if it was about money only? Does that make much sense? Ah yes, now you will say we do so for increased efficiencies right? Honestly, how many years would it take in increased efficiencies to pay for the additional cost of a more modern facility? However, how it does pay in the end to have more modern facilities and equipment is through fewer animals sick, injured, or killed during production. I don’t know your personal definition of humane treatment, but to me it means protecting the animals under our care from sickness, injury, or death.

    So if you assume ag. producers refuse change because of financial reasons, I ask, why the multi-million dollar investments in modern technolgy versus more traditional systems?


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