Nothing to hide

by Dr. Temple Grandin
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photo of Dr. Temple Grandin

I recently watched an episode of "Dirty Jobs" on TV. The show was filmed at the Fair Oaks Dairy in Indiana. It showed everything – milking cows, birthing calves, artificial insemination and manure scraping. It was a great show.

Later, I went to the Fair Oaks Dairy Web site. They have a fantastic site and an extensive program of farm tours. Fair Oaks should serve as an example of how agriculture based companies should be communicating with the public.

First of all, Fair Oaks is a huge dairy that does things right. It proudly shows what they are doing to conserve energy, provide clean milk and promote good animal welfare. One of my graduate students, Wendy Fulwider, visited Fair Oaks when she did her doctoral research. It was one of the few dairies that did a really good job of managing their cows compared to the other 112 dairies she visited. For example, the cow’s legs at Fair Oaks were in much better condition compared to other dairies. Roomy, free stalls with lots of clean bedding prevented swollen legs. Many dairies need to improve. Wendy saw atrocious conditions at some dairies.

In another study, data collected at 10 major livestock markets indicated some producers do a poor job of taking care of dairy cows. This study was done with Beef Checkoff funding as part of the Beef Quality Audit in 2007. Twenty-three percent of the old cull dairy cows were very skinny with a body condition score of less than 2. Lameness was also bad; 18 percent of the cows sold at the markets with obvious lameness had scores of 3 or worse.

Detached from animals

In order to avoid very bad consequences, the rest of animal agriculture should follow the lead of Fair Oaks.

Obviously, I would not suggest taking busloads of school kids through a beef plant, but hog farms, poultry farms and other farms should open their doors to the public. Even at a beef-slaughter plant, many operations can be shown without being perceived as gross. For example, the fabrication and packaging side can be viewed in its entirety.

On the slaughter side, people are interested in three things – animal welfare, sanitation and environmental issues.

I am seeing more indications every day of a significant segment of the public becoming more detached from animals. There is a large segment of the public, probably 30 percent to 40 percent, who have no contact with either pets or farm animals. They have no pets, and some of the kids are having less contact with animals due to allergy concerns.

You may be wondering, where did I get these figures? My publisher recently scheduled me to do a book signing at a Costco store in Denver. Few people in the store were interested in books so I started walking up and selling books like a store clerk. I walked up to people and asked them about their pets. I talked to about 200 shoppers who had to walk by me to get to the grocery section on another trip. I was shocked to learn from people who work with service dogs for autistic children that some people did not know dogs need regular bathroom breaks. Some people had absolutely no animal knowledge.

The people who are isolated from animals will be the first ones to become shocked when there is a scandal like Hallmark-Westland.

Within a week after talking to the service-dog people, I was sent an email about a cruel "contraption" that an animal was put in. The contraption was a standard restrainer used to hold livestock for trimming feet. If people do not know what a squeeze chute is used for on a ranch, they will think it is cruel.

We better clean up the house and open the doors before it is too late.

Dr. Temple Grandin operates Grandin Livestock Systems Inc., Fort Collins, Colo., and is a faculty member in the animal science department at Colorado State Univ.

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