Grandin: Can’t buy the solution to livestock handling, it takes training



Contributing Writer

HERSHEY, Pa. — Downer cows. Bruised animals. Dark cutters. Problems with e. coli, salmonella, or a host of pathogens. Is it the slaughter facility? Are the causes a lack of training or improper training?

Many of these types of animal welfare issues are the result of animal processing plants being “understaffed and overloaded,” according to internationally recognized animal handling expert Dr. Temple Grandin.

Grandin, professor of animal sciences at Colorado State University, spoke to about 140 veterinarians, students, producers, and agri-industry representatives Aug. 12 during the third annual Animal Welfare Forum at the Hershey Lodge and Convention Center in Hershey, Pa.

Grandin’s life — and the challenge of her autism — was portrayed by actor Claire Danes in a just-released HBO film.

‘Bad becomes normal’

Slaughter house employees that clock in for long hours become so tired they “can’t possibly do the work right,” she said.

When “slaughter house” (Grandin is unafraid to use what she calls the “s” word) floors are understaffed and the few personnel are overworked, “that causes the problems,” she said at the forum.

Add inadequate or very little training, and “bad becomes normal,” she said.

Grandin said that in 1999, McDonald’s Corporation altered the entire animal processing landscape with its own introduction of internal animal welfare audits that are verified by a third party. The slaughter audits have gone a long way to promote better quality product.

But paper audits can get complex, she said.

“If you don’t make it simple, nobody’s going to do it,” she said.

Can’t ‘buy’ eyes

The emphasis first is on what Grandin can visually observe, she said. That includes body condition (BC) maps, lameness, hock lesions, lice, overall “dirty animals,” she said.

Some slaughter plant managers are more interested in “buying the ‘thing’ first,” whether it is better equipment, improved monitoring software and systems, or other gadgets that may look impressive, she said. But given a choice between the most expensive equipment and bad training, or adequate equipment and excellent training, Grandin would choose the latter.

“People want the technologies first, rather than the management,” she said. We are obsessed with the “techno fix, the drug fix, or the computer fix,” she said.


In the beginning of her career, Grandin said she was always looking for an engineering fix to problems.

“When I started out, I fixed everything with engineering,” she said. “I find now I can fix half of the things with engineering and the other half with good stockmanship. The engineering is worthless without the management component.”

To get good stockmanship, Grandin said, we may have to pay more for it.

Grandin suggested the best companies use incentives to promote better animal handling practices.

“We need to pay incentives for quality work,” she said.

The key to better animal handling is to keep the “bad from becoming normal,” said Grandin.

That includes maintaining stunning and processing equipment.

One company, Cargill, has complete video monitoring and third party audits.

“Let’s just show what we do,” she said. “Let’s stream it out to the Internet, show what you do.”

Industry changes

Industry-wide, Grandin suggested changes that need to be adopted:

Avoid genetic lines that promote bad feet and legs in all species.

Slow down the genetic push for bigger and better. Dairy animals are “at the edge right now” of becoming too big with an emphasis on bigger udders at the expense of good feet and legs.

Make the producer walk the pens and get the animals more used to people. Halter-trained animals will be easier to maneuver.

Often, changes are hard to come by in the industry because the worst producers get on committees and hold back standards for animal handling, noted Grandin.

Keys to ensure slaughter plant success:

Animal behavior expert Temple Grandin said that cattle want to know “what is going on” as they are moved. Knowing their behavior in certain situations, being patient with their flight zone, and understanding obstacles goes a long way in controlling them.

1. Non-slip flooring. This goes a long way to prevent bruising.

2. No hanging chains. It’s a sure animal distraction.

3. Keep entrances to different areas well lit. Cattle just don’t like to go into dark entrances.

4. Sunbeams and shadows. Eliminate them, because they will cause cattle to slow down.

5. Avoid people that should not be in the area. No sudden jerky movements. Appearances of people is distracting. Cattle have wide-angle vision and can see a lot.

6. Cattle see the color yellow very well and are “red blind,” she said. Animal handling personnel should wear red and stay away from yellow colors.

7. A bright, cloudy day is ideal for moving cattle (no shadows and no direct sunlight).

Is an electric prod necessary? Grandin noted that at times, yes it is. But “never constantly,” she said. Use it to deal with cattle that, after the use of a variety of less intrusive techniques, just won’t go into the squeeze shoot or stunbox. After using the prod, “put it down,” she said.

To view Grandin’s website, with many of these helpful hints, visit


Up-to-date agriculture news in your inbox!


  1. I have the utmost respect for Dr. Grandin and enjoy reading all of her studies on animal handling principles. She will be the keynote speaker at an animal welfare fundraiser in December at OSU. My family looks forward to taking the trip to Columbus and meeting her in person.


We are glad you have chosen to leave a comment. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated according to our comment policy.

Receive emails as this discussion progresses.