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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READER COMMENTS (2)

By Jane Gerard 1/25/2010 5:46:30 PM
As an animal trainer and manager on a ranch for cattle and sheep,poultry, I have encountered the same alarming dis-connect the average person has with the animal world. I believe in part it is due to the high level of entertainment or distraction, depending on your point of view, gained via the internet. As a child we did not have that so all our hours were spent outside. Today, hours are spent inside on the computer. Setting up webinars and exposing young people to animals via internet will aid in educating the young and hopefully encourage some of them to want to get " dirty" mucking out, and learning about the animal world. Please carry on Dr. Grandin with your work, the young people really need it! Jane Gerard Small Stock manager, Blackstone Ranch, Taos N.M.

By Jean Bernstein 1/4/2010 4:10:52 PM
Dr. Grandin, Thank you for your writing and your work. As a large scale foodservice operator, I am trying my best to source animals that have been raised and slaugthered humanely. It has been very difficult but we are making great headway. I agree that a portions of customers do not "get it" or care. Many complain that our prices for a burger, for example, are a "rip off" because we use meats either certified human or american humane (which is not perfect, but better than most for a large company like us). However, I am not budging and try to gently educate without preaching with our selections. Food has become too cheap at the expense of humans and animals. However, the realities of business and the size of my company keep meat (and meat substitutes) on our menu - for now. Again, I greatly appreciate your work. Yours, Jean Bernstein, CEO Flying Star Cafes, Inc. Albuquerque, New Mexico