Livestock handling tips from Dr. Temple Grandin
By Kelly Daynard
In a recent blog, we focused on a recent presentation by Dr. Temple Grandin that was held in Mississauga and promised to share more about the lecture, sponsored by the Farm & Food Care Foundation.
• Watch an animal’s eyes. A calm animal has soft brown eyes. If you can see the whites of their eyes, the animal is getting upset. The same goes with signs like tail swishing or ears pinned back. It’s so much easier to work with calm animals as fearful animals can take 20 to 30 minutes to calm down.
• Animals are obviously visual thinkers, not word-based thinkers and a bad experience can shape their behavior for life. She used the example of a horse that had been abused by a rancher wearing a black cowboy hat. The horse was then fearful of anyone wearing a black cowboy hat – but not a white one.
• Rapid movement makes livestock run away. Take your time and approach them slowly.
• It’s the little distractions people don’t notice that will cause problems. She cited examples of loose chains rattling or sunbeams creating unusual patterns in handling chutes that can spook livestock. As she added, the steps needed to fix problems are often easy and cost effective. “It’s amazing what you can do with duct tape and cardboard”, she chuckled.
• Non-slip flooring is essential. Animals get agitated when they’re fearful of slipping.
• Walk your barns regularly so that animals and poultry become used to humans.
• Walk cattle through handling chutes without doing anything to them initially to get them used to the process. Even reward them with treats. If the first experience is a positive one, subsequent treatments will be made a lot easier. Consequently, if the first experience is a bad one, often the rest will be too.
Grandin answered several online questions from Ontario 4-H members watching the presentation via telecast from their computers. She praised the 4-H program saying, “Growing up, 4-H was one of the only places I wasn’t teased – that and the science lab”. A former 4-H leader herself, she encouraged 4-H members to take the time needed to work with their show animals (whether they be cattle or pigs) to ensure that they’re ready for the fall fair. Here was some of her advice:
• Don’t start by tying your calves to a gate. Sit with them. Let them get to know you. There’ll be more likely to respond positively once the training begins.
• Give the process the time it needs. You can’t start to train an animal the day before a show.
• Ensure that the animal is used to things that it might see at a fall fair. “Bikes, flags and balloons – those are the three things that’ll have him running down a midway,” she warned. Try tying balloons or flags to their pens and letting them explore them and become accustomed to them. Said Grandin, “Novelty is both scary and attractive…let them sniff them out.” The same goes for horses that might balk at a shadow – let them sniff it and the situation should resolve itself.
• When asked about on-going discussions and decisions by food companies related to sow stalls, Grandin said that the main concern is about “a degree of confinement that you can’t sell to the public”. In both informal surveys that Grandin has conducted and formal studies done by others, she said that generally a third of respondents have no opinion on sow stalls; a third have the impression that “it doesn’t seem right” and the final third “hate it”.
• To the question, “Can everyone effectively work with animals?” Grandin’s answer was a resounding “No!” In her early work, she estimated that about 20 percent of people are “naturals”. She then added that “a lot can be trained with supervision” and ten percent are too aggressive to be good with animals and would be better off to handle other jobs in the plant or on the farm.
• She gave a lot of praise to processing plants who use video auditing – so that staff handling techniques can be observed even when they don’t know they’re being watched. Systems like those help to ensure that animals are being handled properly and respectfully at all times, she explained. She noted that if all farmers and handlers made a habit of following them, there would be infinitely less problems working with livestock.
Farm & Food Care Ontario has a large library of animal care resources that have been published, over the years, to address common animal handling issues. You can view the complete library at http://www.farmfoodcare.org/animal-care