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The Grandin Effect: An Interview with Dr. Temple Grandin

A Cattle Handling Revolutionary on a Lifetime of Breaking Barriers



A Talk Farm to Me Podcast Interview with Dr. Temple Grandin

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Here is the full transcript for the episode.

Dana, Host:

Welcome to Talk Farm To Me. This is a special place where we hear directly from farmers about their lives, their work, their aha moments, and the challenges they face. We also hear from some influential people and experts from different corners of the agriculture industry to get a better handle on where it's been, where it's going, and what we need to know. Today we speak with one of the leading authorities on the humane handling of cattle in the industry, in big ag where over 50% of the cattle in the US industry go. This affects the beef that you find in the supermarket, in your butcher, most likely, and in fast food restaurants like McDonald's and Wendy's. Even if you don't eat in those places, you want to know this. This is so important to have an awareness and a consciousness for how our food is handled.


This is also a story of tenacity, of doing the work piece by piece, of facing adversity on all sides and persisting to make a difference. And while our guest is famous and heralded, parts of this interview will surprise you. Today you will learn new ideas and thoughts, not included in interviews with her on NPR or in the New York Times. Today's guest is a revolutionary, an author, a professor, she's a woman, she is autistic and did not speak before the age of four. Dr. Temple Grandin was born in the 1940s when children who didn't speak were committed to institutions. But temple's mom would not have it. She stuck with Temple and gave her opportunities and understanding, again and again.


Temple has always related better to animals than to humans. She's a visual thinker, a learning style, autism or not, that has become more accepted by mainstream society than it was when Temple was growing up. Through her work, her writing, and her outspoken nature, Temple Grandin has changed the way the world thinks about autism. She's a PhD from the University of Illinois and is a professor of animal science at Colorado State University. She authored her first book in 1986. Her most recent Visual Thinking, the Hidden Gifts of People Who Think in Pictures, Patterns and Abstractions, published in 2022 was an instant New York Times bestseller. She is the author of six books, including other national bestsellers, Thinking in Pictures and Animals in Translation. While part of her notoriety is connected to her autism, it is in the cattle industry where her observations, astuteness and perseverance has really paid off.


Her designs for cattle handling and evaluation systems have revolutionized the cattle industry and catapulted the humane treatment of cattle in the biggest slaughterhouses to new levels. Dr. Grandin has taken to the TED stage, was listed as one of the 100 most influential People of the Year in Time Magazine in 2010 and was portrayed in a seven time Emmy award-winning movie, starring Claire Danes for HBO in 2010. Here I joined Temple Grandin as she sits in her kitchen wearing her signature western shirt, black with bright blue embroidered birds on it, her TG monogram silver bolo tie with her wavy gray hair pushed back in her inimitable style. Behind her are some cow figurines, a couple of well cared for house plants, a tidy kitchen and a fridge adorned with a Hubble Space Telescope poster. We started off talking about farms and farmers, including a little farm that was just across the street from where Temple grew up.


That little farm across the street had about 50 chickens. Temple could hear the rooster crow from her house and she remembers a field of corn where she would fly her kite. She sees the memory of that little farm in pictures in her mind. From as early as she can remember, Temple has had a special relationship and understanding with animals. Not only that, but she had a knack for the physical, tools, machines, kites. In school, her best classes were the ones that involved sewing or building with wood. Much of school was frustrating for her. In those days, people who thought differently were rarely heralded as smart. While our understanding of how individuals have varied ways to learn and a spectrum of strengths, Dr. Temple Grandin continues her efforts to illuminate educators and the general public on the subject. Her latest book, Visual Thinking, continues to address the topic.


Temple Grandin:

I was really into horses in high school and horses were my life. I was a terrible student and I actually got expelled from a school for throwing a book at a girl who teased me when I was 14, so my mother found a special school and they immediately put me to work. Running horsework, cleaning nine stalls every day, putting them in and out, feeding them. We didn't do much studying. The studying came later when my science teacher got returned around by giving me interesting projects. But I ran the horse barn, I rode horses, we showed horses. That was my life and it was one of the few places where I was not bullied and teased. But one of the places where I had friends who shared interest was riding horses.


Dana, Host:

And what kind of influence did the horses have on you?


Temple Grandin:

Well, it was a great activity. I mean, I just worked hard getting my horse ready for the trail class, walk over the water canvas, go up and open the mailbox, all the things that you do in a trail class. In fact, one of the ribbons I was the most proud of wasn't the first place ribbon, I think I got something like third place, but there was like 15 horses in the class and this was trail class. I beat out like 10 other horses. I don't remember the exact numbers, I mean it wasn't 20 of horses in the class, but wasn't something where there's just a few people in the class. I cleaned three years of nine stalls every day.


Dana, Host:

Wow, so you're pretty strong.


Temple Grandin:

Yeah.


Dana, Host:

Having already defined her love for animals, Temple spent a summer on her aunt's ranch as a teenager and exposed Temple to cattle for the first time and started the gears working that would later lead to an illustrious career as a designer, author, speaker, and professor.


Once you were out at your aunt's ranch, how old were you?


Temple Grandin:

16, around 16 or so. I'd never been in the west before. First time I'd been in the west and that's where I saw beef cattle and I've hardly even seen beef cattle before. I'd seen some dairy cattle.


Dana, Host:

And what did you think?


Temple Grandin:

I remember watching cattle getting vaccinated in a squeeze chute.


Dana, Host:

A squeeze chute is essentially a mechanism into which a single animal is fed and stopped with a gate for its head to prevent the animal from injuring itself. The machine squeezes it gently while the farmer administers vaccinations. Always hands-on, Temple gave it a try, not just with the cattle but on herself. She got inside and experienced it on her own body.


Temple Grandin:

That's where I got the idea for my squeezing machine because those had terrible panic attacks. I watched some wiener calves going through a squeeze chute to get vaccinated, and I noticed some of the animals kind of tended to calm down, so I went and tried them.


Dana, Host:

Temple suffered from terrible panic attacks at the time, so she crafted her own personal squeeze machine modeled after the chute used on cattle. Cattle would be calm in the squeeze chute and it worked similarly on her, but her experience with the squeeze chute had another effect. It started her thinking about cattle in a different way, one that considered the visual and physical experiences of cattle in the agricultural industry.


Temple Grandin:

And that interest in the squeeze chute then spread to design cattle handling facilities. Then I got done with my undergraduate degree at Franklin Pierce College. I went out to Arizona State. I was originally going to get a master's in psychology. That didn't work out, and I switched over into animal science. I was visiting all the feedlots, whole bunches of feedlots in Arizona. That was really wonderful.


Dana, Host:

And were you visiting them as a part of your curriculum at school?


Temple Grandin:

In the beginning, no.


Dana, Host:

How did you start visiting some of these feedlots?


Temple Grandin:

I'd just go visit them.


Dana, Host:

You just show up.


Temple Grandin:

I just showed up. That's what I did. I kind of made my own internships and the things I did there is similar to what they have interns do, but I just made my own internships.


Dana, Host:

That's pretty gutsy.


Temple Grandin:

That's what I did.


Dana, Host:

You can see that her interest in cattle really took hold. Temple is tenacious, persistent and focused.

And now let's just talk about this for a second. So you show up at a feedlot, you're a female.


Temple Grandin:

I can tell you, being a woman was a much bigger barrier than autism ever was.


Dana, Host:

There were next to no women on a feedlot back then. And even now, it's male dominated work. There were also no autistic people on the feedlots. Although Temple thinks back to many of the skilled people she met and swears that many of them were visual thinkers like she is.


Temple Grandin:

I look back on these people and about 20% of them would've been autistic, dyslexic or ADHD. And you're talking about people that owned metal working shops, people that invented mechanical equipment. And what's happening now is the people I've worked with, they're retired, I'm in my seventies now. So those people are retiring. They're not getting replaced, because the dyslexic and autistic kids getting shunted into special ed doesn't get a chance to take shop. One of the worst things that we ever did is taking all the hands-on classes out of the schools. Absolutely the worst place. We are paying for it now. I'm very concerned about skill loss, especially in what I call the clever engineering department that ought to be going into a lot of these very high-end skill trades, are playing video games in the basement with an autism diagnosis or dyslexia diagnosis when they should be building things. There's a connection here and we need these skills and we need it really badly.


Dana, Host:

Showing up at feedlots over and over was not the only direction her motivation led her in. In talking with her, you can feel her focus and ambition. It's palpable.


Temple Grandin:

Now another thing that helped me, was that I became livestock editor for State Farm magazine. I knew if I wrote for that magazine that would really help my career and there were women doing these reporter jobs. And then I very quickly got a reputation for being really accurate on how I covered the cattle feeders meeting. Then they kind of got to know me, so I'd stop by as a work suit cap.


Dana, Host:

And how long before you started really getting involved in the operations of feedlots and observing what was going on?


Temple Grandin:

Well, that was, I got out to Arizona in 1970 after I graduated from Franklin Pearson. I was out at feed yards within six months or so. Quickly, I was out at feed yards.


Dana, Host:

Explain to me how you integrated yourself, obviously you're there, you're talking and you're observing. When did you start sharing ideas for how to make improvements?


Temple Grandin:

Well, the first thing was my master's thesis and then I wrote about that in the magazine. I basically did a research study and back then nobody was looking at cattle handling, nobody. And one of the very first things I did was to look at how the cattle reacted going through the chutes and looking at what they were seeing. Shadows, chains hanging down, coats on fences. Nobody had looked at that when I first started that. I'm a visual thinker, now I didn't know I was a visual thinker. I thought everybody's a visual thinker. And I didn't know until my late thirties that other people thought verbally. But it was obvious to me to look at what cattle were looking at and I'd noticed that there was a coat on the fence hung on it. They would tend to stop before they would walk by it and that would interfere with the movement of the cattle.


Dana, Host:

When cattle see something they don't understand or that looks scary, they stop. They shy away from it. Cattle are prey animals and they act on those instincts as if whatever they face might harm them. So even something as simple as a coat hanging on a wall can be frightening. And if they are in a chute with other cattle behind them, panic can ensue with the entire herd. It's not desirable behavior for the cattle or the cattle herders.


Temple Grandin:

And that's the first thing that I did. It was a behavior observation and people thought it was kind of weird. But what I've learned now is if you think verbally, you might have a hard time understanding why somebody would want to look at what cattle were seeing when they were walking through a chute. But it was obvious to me to look at what cattle were seeing.


Dana, Host:

And so, what you were looking at at that time was their journey on the way into the squeeze chute?


Temple Grandin:

This was the squeeze chute in the beginning. This was into the squeeze chute mainly to get vaccinated.


Dana, Host:

And what kind of problems was it causing for the feedlot?


Temple Grandin:

Well, the animal would stop and then they'd get electric prodded and zapped with the electric prod. And so if you take these distractions out of a facility, they're going to move through it more easily.


Dana, Host:

And this was the focus of your master's thesis?


Temple Grandin:

The main focus I did in my master's thesis, there were different types of squeeze chutes with the different types of apparatus that held the head. And then I developed a scoring system, similar to scoring system that's now used by Beef Quality Assurance. I had electric prod score falling down, getting miscaught in a squeeze chute. And then I did these measurements on different brands of squeeze chutes that had different types of head gates on them. And I looked at how the head gates affected the behavior of the cattle.


Dana, Host:

And the ones that rose to the top in your thesis, are those the ones that are being used today?


Temple Grandin:

Yeah, there's one type that is definitely still used today. There's two other types that they stopped using.


Dana, Host:

And the research that you did as a part of your master's thesis, how was that then shared?


Temple Grandin:

Didn't know how to publish a scientific [inaudible 00:15:25], and so it never really got published properly, but I put it in all the beef trade press. I put it in that. And then I was going to the animal science meetings in the seventies and Jack Albright of Purdue University invited me to present the paper at the animal science meetings.


Dana, Host:

Jack Albright was a professor of animal sciences and veterinary medicine at Purdue University in Indiana for 33 years, from 1963 to 1996 where he specialized in animal management, behavior, care, and welfare.


Temple Grandin:

And that was kind of a big breakthrough and that ended up being an article I did in 1980 and now by this time I had designed some facilities, but I didn't know how to publish a scientific paper back then. Nothing was online. You had to go in the library and read found copies of the journals.


Dana, Host:

Right, much more tricky.


Temple Grandin:

Yeah, that's right.


Dana, Host:

So you started out with the squeeze chute.


Temple Grandin:

Then I got more and more interested in all of the stuff that led up to the squeeze chute. And that's the stuff that I designed.


Dana, Host:

We will talk about three major pieces of infrastructure in the cattle handling business, the squeeze chute, kind of where it all started, and I think you get a sense for that. The dip vat system where cattle are dipped in a liquid that coats their bodies to rid them of and prevent infection from parasites and the center track restraining system that leads cattle into the slaughterhouse. We will also talk about her scoring system for how these worked or didn't.


Temple Grandin:

In the beginning, I worked on the squeeze juice in the feed yard and then I made my own internship at Swift Plant in Tolleson, Arizona, just out of the JBS Plant. And I went over there every Tuesday afternoon and same thing that students do as an internship and they were going to put in an older type of restrainer called a V conveyor restrainer and I helped on designing the ramp for that. I also helped on selling Swift on [inaudible 00:17:36]. Because what I did is I went and visited Swift. Got it, so I could go visit a plant in Texas and I got a bunch of pictures and that was sent to the corporate office. They liked that.


Dana, Host:

Now I'm curious, right, so you've had these big ideas and you've done the research.


Temple Grandin:

Now research, I then learned there was a scientist in New Zealand named Ron Kilgour, who did very similar things with the vision in sheep, very similar. And I go, okay, well I guess I'm on to something then because he was finding some of the same things. He started his research in New Zealand. There was a lot of pushback from scientific community. I remember when he finally came to the US and I went to one of his talks, this was late seventies, he said, the bureaucrats are angry. They don't like international attention I've been getting, absolved my research.


Dana, Host:

Did you feel any of that pushback?


Temple Grandin:

Well, I always had, certainly, I only got the bull testicles put on my car that was most nasty.


Dana, Host:

I just want to take you back for a second to what Temple said earlier. A young autistic woman shows up at a feed yard to observe cattle. She has ideas, thoughts on how things could be improved and to intimidate her. The men who work there throw bloody testicles from a castrated bull under the hood of her car. Besides gross, that's really intimidating and violent. I just want to repeat what she told us earlier.


Temple Grandin:

I can tell you, being a woman was a much bigger barrier than autism ever was. Where I got most of the problems was with Foreman. It was not the people working the cattle. They were fine. They were good. It wasn't the big owner or the manager. It was foremens, almost all my trouble was foremens.


Dana, Host:

Interesting. Why do you think?


Temple Grandin:

Well, they feel threatened. That's where most of my trouble was, middle management.


Dana, Host:

How did that manifest itself really?


Temple Grandin:

They kicked me out of Scottsdale Feed Yard. They put bull testicles on my car and one of the things that motivated me to do, I'd already written one article for the Farmer Ranchman Magazine summarizing my master's thesis on the head gates and then that motivated me to go down to the Farmer Ranchman and offer up myself to do a column every month.


Dana, Host:

Did that change how the foremen behaved?


Temple Grandin:

Changed how people in Arizona treated me because, and I remember going to my very first Arizona cattle feeders meeting to cover it and the head of the Cattle Feeders Association didn't want to let me in, but it convinced him to let me in and then I wrote a really good article summarizing every speech really accurately and I got a reputation that I did not misquote the speakers. I summarized the talks accurately.


Dana, Host:

So you did all of this work piece by piece. This did not happen overnight?


Temple Grandin:

It was piece by piece. It was not overnight.


Dana, Host:

Right.


Temple Grandin:

When I finally got in the design business, started one little job at a time. It was not overnight.


Dana, Host:

So the design part of this is really, this is taking your observations and...


Temple Grandin:

I worked for a year and a half for a feedlot construction company, did their advertising and then a contractor named Jim Ul had seen some of my drawings and he came to me and he was starting a little tiny construction business. And he said, would you like to have me design jobs? And worked with him. He was another very important mentor. In about '76 we did a packing plant job and that's when the first dip vat got done.


Dana, Host:

What's a dip vat for? Explain that.


Temple Grandin:

A dip vat is for getting ticks and mites off of cattle. This is where something bad for the cattle was very, very good for my business. Scabies hit Arizona and the USDA requires dipping the cattle.


Dana, Host:

Scabies is a treacherous parasite that gets under your skin and lays eggs making you very itchy.


Temple Grandin:

This is before you had ivermectin. That came out later, which made dip vats kind of obsolete. But all of a sudden I had six dip vats I designed. Best thing that ever happened to my business and Jim built them. He was a very important mentor.


Dana, Host:

And he understood that you were really taking into consideration...


Temple Grandin:

I got a reputation for being a very good reporter for the Farmer Ranchman Magazine. And then people had seen some of the drawings I had done.


Dana, Host:

And you put those in that paper?


Temple Grandin:

Yeah, I put drawings and stuff. Then when I was writing for that magazine, yeah, I published all my cattle handling stuff. I wrote about it. Every project, wrote about them.


Dana, Host:

And you were designing them but you were also working with the crews that were building them. Is that correct?


Temple Grandin:

I'd go out on the jobs and I wasn't there every day, but I'd be there when they laid them out because that's very critical. Then at various points of the job, I'd go visit the job and we built six dip vats and scabies was horrible for the cattle and absolutely wonderful for my business. Gave me a whole bunch of jobs. The dip vat design got replicated because you'd have cattle flip over backwards to dip vat and drown and I designed an entrance that if you used it correctly, just about eliminated drowning.


Dana, Host:

So let's talk about your next big innovation.


Temple Grandin:

When we did the dip vats, I did some really elaborate curved facilities for the dip vats. It worked really well. So I developed my anti-drowning entrance and I also made some of my very best curved layouts that were like an S loop for two big dip vats and I wrote about those. In my very first professional scientific article, there's a picture of that dip vat in it. So if you make a round crowd pen as they come on around the bend, they think they're going back to where they come from. That's why it works. That's a round crowd pen with a loading ramp and single file alley going up the squeeze shoot. And what I did on this design work is all these feed yards, there were some curved chutes.


There were some, I can't say I invented all the curved chutes, there were some. But I'd travel around the feed yards in Arizona and Texas and go work cattle in them. And what I found is there'd be a really nice loading ramp over here, but leading up to it was horrible. Or a really nice round crowding pen, but the lead up to that was messed up. So what I did is I went around to all these feed yards and took all the good bits and I put them together. When I did the McElhaney and the Red River projects in '76 and '78 when we did the one at McElhaney, there were private planes flying in from around the country to look at it.


Dana, Host:

Really?


Temple Grandin:

Yeah.


Dana, Host:

Who was coming to look at it?


Temple Grandin:

Well, just other feed yards from Texas and stuff.


Dana, Host:

Temple used her discoveries from designing the dip vat and extended them to the slaughterhouse. By then she'd had a lot of experience in observing and designing or re-engineering cattle handling facilities, but building a well-designed facility is not enough.


Temple Grandin:

This is a mistake a lot of engineers make and I thought when I was really young and I made those systems that I could make self-managing cattle handling systems, there's no such thing as that. And a lot of engineers make that mistake. We've got to put internet in schools, everything's going to be wonderful. Well that doesn't replace bad teaching. And I thought I could make a self-managing cattle handling facility. And I get asked what I'm the most proud of in animal welfare and the thing I'm most proud of is the scoring system I developed for assessing animal handling and stunning at slaughterhouses. And some of the measures were in my old master's thesis, not all measures, but falling on electric prods score was in there and miscaught, that was in there. And then in 1999, McDonald's hired me to train their animal welfare auditors. And when you got a big customer inspecting things, I saw more change in 1999 than I had seen in my whole entire career.


Dana, Host:

Temple explains this very simple but completely revolutionary scoring system. It invites you into the slaughterhouse, which is completely normal for her, but it might catch you off guard. Just a warning.


Temple Grandin:

It was a hundred percent dead when you hang them on the rail, it was 95% first shot unconscious, and 1% or less falling, 3% or less mooing and bellering right in the stunning area. And you had to get 75% of them through with no electric prod. They had to make those numbers and they had to work to make the numbers, but in most cases, out of 75 suppliers, only three had to build expensive things. We had some old shabby old places and I managed to get them to work. Changing lighting, changing how they moved the animals. Nonslip flooring in high traffic areas like the unloading ramp, stun box floor. And what that did is it forced the plants to manage their stuff. You want to have good equipment but you need to have the management to go with it.


Dana, Host:

And this auditing system is still being used?


Temple Grandin:

Oh yeah. It's absolutely still being used. It went around the world. One of the things that helped make me influential is I gave my stuff away. Okay, before there was internet, I'd write in our state magazine, but I wrote in the National Beef magazines and then when the internet came, I put a webpage up and all the drawings and stuff like that and reprints of articles, things like that. And people would say to me, why do you give this stuff away? Well, cause I want to make change. And then I still got plenty of consulting business, plenty of it. I've seen a lot of innovative things done. Well, it wasn't until relatively recently, like five or six years ago that I realized how important writing was because I would do a job and if it was something unique about it, I wrote about it, pictures of it, drawings of it, wrote about it. A lot of people hold on too much to their intellectual property. I gave it away.


Dana, Host:

Well it seems like you started that at an early age.


Temple Grandin:

Oh, I did because my very first jobs in the Farmer Ranchman and then the dip vat, I put it in Beef Magazine. That was our big national cattle magazine. It went in there and that's when the private planes started coming.


Dana, Host:

Right.


Temple Grandin:

And the diagram of the drown proof entrance was put in there. That was the whole idea. I wanted to stop cattle from drowning and I made an entrance that if you adjusted it right, pretty much eliminated drowning.


Dana, Host:

Think about that. Writing, sharing ideas through writing, it has been a major thread through Temple's life and career. And it has led to a tremendous amount of important changes in two worlds that Temple is immersed in, the world of autism and the cattle industry. Once these ideas took hold, at first in small ways and then bigger ones like having McDonald's get involved, these ideas began to spread.


Temple Grandin:

And Wendy's came on board just a few months later with a really good system and we used the exact same numerical score assessment. Burger King came on board and I made sure everybody did it the same. Very clear objective scoring. I'd read this stuff, I couldn't believe, they use this word reasonable all the time legally. Is something reasonable? Well, that would be like traffic laws saying, are you driving at a reasonable speed? Traffic has numbers and they use a device to measure it.


Dana, Host:

Right.


Temple Grandin:

I read all this stuff about legislation or this and this thing about something reasonable. That's in a lot of legislation. It's something reasonable.


Dana, Host:

Hard to measure.


Temple Grandin:

Well you can't, that's the problem, can't measure. But you see my scoring system, they could measure it and they had to make five numbers and have no accidental abuse.


Dana, Host:

I have a silly question. You participated on the slaughter line, you went and observed.


Temple Grandin:

One of the things I had to find out is do cattle know they're going to get slaughtered? So what I would do is I go to the Swift Plant and then I'd go out to a feed yard and they behaved the same way at both places. In fact, in a lot of cases they went into the slaughter plant easier than they did into the vaccinating shoot. The handling was somewhat better at the slaughter house. You get things set up right, they go in. I was just at a plant on Tuesday and it was working just fine. Score was extremely low. Lost a few hundred cattle. I think there was one little tiny moo, a hundred cattle.


Dana, Host:

Right.


Temple Grandin:

No, they were doing just great. They had two older guys working the cattle that had been there for a while, really well-trained. And then the thing is, training is always an issue when you have employee turnover because you always have to keep training on the same things, move small groups, stop yelling, stop waving your arms, and then you've got to get distractions out of facilities. I was at a plant this last spring and everything was working just fine. Really nice curved facility that I helped lay out. And then at three o'clock in the afternoon this wagon wheel shadow appeared and the cattle would not walk over it. It was from the overhead structure. Then two hours later that shadow's gone, then it's going to work fine.


Dana, Host:

So when they say that 50% of the...


Temple Grandin:

The cap. And that would be in my center track restrainer system, all the big huge plants have got that piece of equipment. 50% of the facilities on every little small ranch. Absolutely not. But it's 50% of the cattle go through big plants.


Dana, Host:

I've had this question actually from the people who know I'm interviewing you out there, they're interested to understand a little bit about how does everything that you've shared, how does that translate when we're talking about smaller farms or smaller facilities?


Temple Grandin:

Well, I did a book for smaller farms and I've got really simple, small facilities in this that are not going to be way expensive to bill. And you can make them out of portable panels. It has all the cattle behavior, the cattle behavior information is somewhat, point of flight zone, point of balance. Those things are similar. Now a lot of cattle on small farms get very, very tame and there's some cases you have to lead them or maybe bribe them with treats to go in the chute. But the behavior is similar on a small farm. Now I'm still seeing people building the same mistakes. I was in Kentucky this fall, went out to a small farm, probably a hundred cattle and they put a slick floor in. I still have to keep talking about basics. Always, don't yell at cattle, moving to small groups, don't stuff the crowd pen full.


No matter what type of crowd pen you have, don't stuff it full. You have to always keep talking about these basics. And the behavior stuff does apply, now for the biggest farm to the small. And then this book's got lots of nice colored pictures and the facilities are made out of portable panels rather than welded in place. There's people, a lot of leased land and you don't want to donate your cattle handling facilities to the landlord who cement it into the ground. The landlord owns it, sits on top of the ground, it's furniture and you can move it away.


Dana, Host:

So when you look at the cattle industry now, since you've had so much experience there, what would you do next in that industry?


Temple Grandin:

The biggest concerns now is practices that can make animals light. I've also done work with pigs and quite a number of years ago you were breeding just for lean meat and you ended up with an excitable pig and some of them had leg confirmation problems that make the animal light. And I never thought that would happen to cattle but about 15 years ago, some of that stuff starts showing up in cattle. And the biggest problem I see now, we've got to make sure we have an animal that can walk easily coming into a plant. And if somebody said to me 20 years ago we might have some stiff feedlot cattle, didn't want to walk easily, I would've thought that was crazy.


And it gets into pushing the biology just too hard. You push the dairy cow to make more and more milk and then you can't breed her. You push the beef animal to get bigger and bigger muscles. There's now problems with congestive heart failure. When I see a welfare issue now, it's something that happened at the farm but when I'm at a slaughterhouse like a dairy cow allowed to get really skinny and emaciated before she's brought in. But it's something I will have to fix at the farm. I can't fix it at the plant.


Dana, Host:

And how would you do that?


Temple Grandin:

Well, let's select for good feet and legs, so you don't have that kind of lightness issue. There's definitely some genetics in this. Be careful with certain growth hormones. Go too much on that, that can get you into trouble. But in order to have good handling slaughterhouse, you've got to have an animal who can walk.


Dana, Host:

This is something that we all need to be thinking about and thinking about more. What do we want in our beef? In our food? How animals are raised matters on so many levels. Let's open our eyes to the process of raising animals for meat in this country. I'm curious what you think about when you're talking about confirmation issues or health issues, what have you. And going back to the farm, I've been hearing a lot more about the idea of cattle grazing more naturally and relying less on feed like corn and sowing.


Temple Grandin:

I've worked 50 years of my career with cattle and they're getting bashed and instead of methane and all of this and bad stuff, need to get rid of cattle or they'll say they take up too much land. Well, let's start with the land issue. 20% of the habitable land can only be grazed. You cannot grow crops on. Let's take Eastern Colorado. You come out of the airport and you go straight west on I-70. Once you get about 50 miles out, there's a 100 mile stretch of plains that can only be grazed. There's not enough water in the ground or in the sky to do crops. What do we do with that land? Not raise food on it. I don't think that makes very much sense.

So you have all this land that can only be grazed. And if you do grazing right, you can improve land because bison created the best crop land that we have. The great herds of bison. That is they come in, mow the grass, move on. And when you do rotational grazing correctly, it improves the land. Another thing we need to be doing with soy and corn is raising cover crops for soil health and to make those covered crops, pay raise them, get the animals and the plants back together again.

Now let's look at the methane issue. Let's put it in perspective. Leaking oil field equipment puts out the same amount as cattle. And then I just learned that when you flare a well, it doesn't burn up all the methane. So the leaking oil well equipment will be worse. So we got to put this in perspective. Dumps put out a lot of methane, swamps put out way more methane than cattle do. I reviewed that literature. There's a place for the grazing animal, A big place for it. You got to do it right. I want to emphasize that.


Dana, Host:

So you believe that cattle should be grazing.


Temple Grandin:

Well, yeah. One of the reasons grain feeding started was to even out supply. Because when you go down to New Zealand, it's a seasonal industry. They'll have a period every year where slaughterhouses are shut down. Now if you feed grain, you can even out supply. And I think what a more sensible thing is you graze them longer and then you do a short feeding period.


Dana, Host:

But if we were to convert more of our cattle to grass fed cattle...


Temple Grandin:

What I think that a lot of these things is a more hybrid approach. Not purely organic, but you use a lot of organic principles, a little bit of regular, and now I think some animals, yeah, they'd be totally grass finished, but I think it could be other cattle. I think a good approach would be 60 days in the feed yard.


Dana, Host:

And how many days are they now?


Temple Grandin:

Oh, some of these animals are a year or eight months, something like that. You can start out with little tiny calf. You can't put that in a feed yard. But I think that people are getting more and more concerned about confinement. It's too intense and we've got to figure out better ways to do things.


Dana, Host:

I just want you to hear this. People are getting more and more concerned about confinement, which means that people like you have the power to change things. I just needed to tell you that it's important to know your power.


Temple Grandin:

And also there's a place for the small farmer. I said that five years ago when we had a flood here and COVID showed that they can be fragile. 300,000 pigs had to be destroyed because of workers getting sick and they couldn't process the pigs. Now we got the bird flu, which is a complete mess. When big works, it works fine. Now let's look at our beer industry. We got a great big huge Budweiser plant and then around it, all these little tiny craft brewers and they coexist because those little craft breweries have to be more expensive and they have a special niche.

You can't compete head-to-head with Budweiser. No way. You can't compete head-to-head with the big beef plants. But small producers can coexist with local, organic, grassfed family farm. Now the thing about a distributed supply chain is more expensive, but it doesn't break as easily. Concentrated supply chain, when it works, it could work great, works fine. When you break it, you've got problems. That's the thing. Big, it's fragile. And when I said that before COVID, some people kind of rolled their eyes when I said that. They're not rolling them now, not since COVID.


Dana, Host:

Temple Grandin, one of the most influential people in the business of agriculture. She's also one of the most influential people, if not the most influential person in the autism space. Dr. Grandin looks at the world critically. Seeing what others don't see, and she built a life and a career one step at a time. A terrible student kicked out of school now with a doctorate as a professor, helping other young students become writers, researchers, and practitioners who will go and leave their own mark on the world. With her New York Times bestseller on the shelves, Visual Thinking, Dr. Grandin has been interviewed countless times. I'm so grateful to her for accepting our request to sit down, kitchen to kitchen and talk farm. Here are five things Dr. Grandin said that I would like to underscore so that you might take them forward with you.


One, her work as a young woman on feedlots was more difficult because she was a woman and because she was autistic. Two, writing about her observations and work really had a profound impact on her work and her career. Three, her career was built on tenacity and persistence. She took on one thing at a time, did it well, and moved forward from there with the help of some very influential mentors who noticed the quality of her work. Four, cattle and other livestock are developing serious confirmation issues that can be avoided at the farm level, and we all need to be more conscious about confinement in farming as consumers, she recommends no more than 60 days in a system where feed lots stays are often much, much longer. Number five, big is fragile. Big farms can work well, but they also break easily. Dr. Grandin emphasizes that there is a place for both and that small farms are an important part of that equation.


Thank you for being an important part of Talk Farm to me. If you enjoyed this episode, which I think you did, because you are still here, can you do me a quick favor? All you need to do is recommend this episode to a friend. You can share it right from the app you are listening in. I would be so grateful. This is the best way to keep the conversation going and to build awareness of the power you hold to make changes and to support strong efforts in the world of farming, big and small. One last thing. I have left you some great information, including some links and a list of Dr. Grandin's books in the show notes. Check it out.


Stay tuned for another episode of Talk Farm To Me next week. I am your host, Dana DiPrima, and this is Talk Farm To Me.


Here is the link to the Talk Farm to me episode on Apple Podcasts.


Temple Grandin in her 70s in a black western shirt with a red necktie
Dr. Temple Grandin

In the bustling world of agriculture, where our food begins its journey from farm to table, there are individuals who stand out not only for their contributions but also for their unique life stories. Dr. Temple Grandin is one such remarkable individual, a leading authority in the humane handling of cattle, an author, a professor, and an influential figure in both the agricultural industry and the autism community. Today, we delve into her world and discover the profound impact she's had on these two distinct yet interconnected realms.


Born in the 1940s, at a time when children who didn't speak were often committed to institutions, Temple Grandin's early life was filled with challenges. However, her mother's unwavering support and belief in her abilities paved the way for an extraordinary journey. Temple's unique perspective and affinity for animals, which she could understand and relate to better than humans, were evident from a young age. A little farm across the street from her childhood home, with its 50 chickens and a field of corn where she flew her kite, left an indelible imprint on her memory. Her experiences with animals and her natural aptitude for working with tools and machines set her on a path that would revolutionize the cattle industry.


School, however, was a different story for Temple. In an era when unconventional thinking was rarely celebrated as intelligence, she struggled. Yet, her remarkable journey from being a terrible student to achieving a doctorate and becoming a professor at Colorado State University is a testament to her tenacity and perseverance. Her expertise in animal science, honed through years of hands-on experience and dedication, has transformed the way we think about cattle handling and evaluation systems.


Temple's journey wasn't just about overcoming obstacles; it was about using her unique perspective to bring about change. Her insights into autism, her advocacy for those on the spectrum, and her pioneering work in animal behavior have garnered worldwide recognition. Her writings, including bestsellers like "Thinking in Pictures" and "Animals in Translation," have not only educated but also inspired countless individuals.


One of the significant revelations from the interview is the dual challenge that Temple faced as a woman and as an autistic person in the agriculture industry. Her work on feedlots, where she applied her knowledge and expertise, was made even more challenging due to these factors. However, she persevered, proving that barriers can be overcome with determination.


Temple Grandin's dedication to writing about her observations and work had a profound impact on her career. Through her books and public appearances, she has been able to educate a broader audience about the importance of humane treatment of animals in the food production process. Her most recent book, "Visual Thinking: The Hidden Gifts of People Who Think in Pictures, Patterns, and Abstractions," published in 2022, has been an instant New York Times bestseller.


Furthermore, the interview highlights her fundamental philosophy of tackling one challenge at a time, doing it exceptionally well, and then moving forward. Her mentors, recognizing the quality of her work, played a crucial role in her journey.


Dr. Grandin also brings attention to critical issues in agriculture today. She emphasizes that livestock, including cattle, are facing serious confirmation issues that can be mitigated at the farm level. Additionally, she underscores the need for consumers to be conscious of confinement in farming practices. In particular, she recommends limiting feedlot stays to no more than 60 days, as prolonged confinement can be detrimental to animal welfare.


Another essential point made by Dr. Grandin is the recognition that both large and small farms have their place in the agricultural landscape. While large farms can achieve efficiency in production, they can also be fragile. Small farms, with their unique qualities and contributions, are an integral part of the equation.


Dr. Temple Grandin's journey is a testament to the power of determination, unique perspectives, and the belief in one's abilities. Her impact on both the agriculture industry and the autism community is immeasurable. Through her work, advocacy, and writings, she continues to inspire and educate, shedding light on critical issues in agriculture and championing the rights and potential of individuals on the autism spectrum. Her story is a reminder that passion, perseverance, and a commitment to making a difference can lead to profound and lasting change.


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Dana DiPrima is the founder of the For Farmers Movement. For Farmers supports American farmers by sharing their stories, replacing myths with facts, and providing them with grants and other helpful resources. Dana is the host of the Talk Farm to Me podcast featuring farmers and farm issue experts from across the country. She also authors a weekly letter; you can subscribe here. And you can join the For Farmers Movement to support your farmers here. You can also follow her on Instagram.

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