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It was a long drive Thursday night from my place in Wooster, Ohio, to the northwest Ohio town of Cygnet. But when you consider the speaker and what she shared, it was worth it.

Temple Grandin is an accomplished individual who has helped the livestock industry in many ways. She is a great advocate for autism and what autistic people can and do accomplish every day.

And for farming, she has done well at designing facilities that work “with,”” instead of “against,” the animals and their natural behaviors.

Lessons learned

Her first rule when handling livestock is to calm down and be quiet. As a kid, that was one of the first rules my dad and grandfather taught me. When you’re loading cattle, you have to be as quiet as you possibly can, because even the slightest noise can cause them to be spooked.

It also was reassuring to hear her talk about some of the reasons cattle are reluctant to be loaded onto trailers or moved from one part of the barn to another. Although cow shockers and prods are effective ways of getting them to move, handlers should first try to figure out why the animal is resisting.

It may require getting down on your own hands and knees and looking around, but you can often spot some of the reasons why the animal won’t move. Maybe it’s a dangling chain, a loose gate or an odd configuration of the loading chute.

At any rate, it’s worth considering before you resort to more forceful measures. Whenever I wanted to use a shocker as a kid, my dad was always reluctant. It wasn’t until several years of raising beef that I finally bought a shocker and even when we had one, he insisted I try everything else first.

A huge factor was just giving the steers enough time to see what lie ahead. Once they got a good look at the inside of the trailer, or the next pen over, it made a difference. I also discovered the benefit of shaking out some straw on the trailer floor and near the edge of the trailer step, to make the inside blend with the same surface the steers were used to.

Other things, like loading the easiest animal first, and waiting for the others to join their friend, also helped. Once one of the steers was loaded, the others were more likely to follow.

New perspective

If I was still raising steers today, I think I would build myself a quality crowd gate that operated on a hook or a hinge. The only crowd gate I used at our farm was makeshift — kind of a v-design or sometimes a small pen with the handler behind the steers, pushing on their rumps.

It wasn’t very safe, and efficiency was kind of hit and miss.

There was always the risk of one of the gates falling over onto the
guy holding it, or of the steers pushing out through the sides and over top of the handlers.

A lot of people claim Grandin is their hero and hail her for doing great things. Some of her ideas I agree with, and some I do not.

Good source

But I do think she’s a valuable source of information for the livestock industry, and her ideas are a good reminder of what animal handling is all about.

Grandin is an activist for animal welfare, but not for animal rights. After having a few bites of her beef burger on Thursday, she rightfully criticized animal rights activists who have little to no understanding of animal agriculture.

Many of the most popular vegan activists in the country like to use Grandin as their support. But unlike them, she calls for more humane treatment of livestock, and recognizes it with her own meal.

And she doesn’t mislabel everybody who raises livestock a “factory farmer,” either.

Grandin said small and large farmers are all important, and that mismanagement can occur at any size operation. She also said it’s time the small and the large farmer quit throwing rocks at each other. And I said amen — under my breath.

Each farm is different

For me, Grandin is and probably always will be, a credible source. I don’t consider her the goddess of animal welfare, but I do value her opinions and her ideas.

At the end of the day, a farmer still has to work with the equipment and the setup he has, and not everybody is large enough, or can afford a state-of-the-art loading and cattle handling system.

And, it’s always easier to tell a farmer or an industry what they’re doing wrong, than it is to operate a farm or make a living from one.

But as Grandin made clear, there are many improvements a farmer can make that are cost-effective and that actually boost efficiency and worker safety.

It was a good visit and well worth the trip.

Chris Kick lives in Wooster, Ohio. An American FFA Degree recipient, he holds a bachelor’s in creative writing from Ashland University. He spends his free time on his grandparents’ farms in Wayne and Holmes counties.
Chris Kick
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