Most of us have experienced situations where words just aren’t enough. Sometimes it’s a feeling beyond description or it could be something you don’t know how to explain. Well, have you ever heard the expression, “a picture is worth a thousand words?” Sometimes an image is the most effective way to express a thought or event. This is the way Dr. Temple Grandin, a renowned animal behaviourist, explains the way she thinks all the time in her efforts to improve how we handle livestock.
Dr. Grandin is a professor of animal sciences at Colorado State University, and on May 8 I had the honor to meet her at a fundraiser for 4-H Nova Scotia, held at Dalhousie University’s Faculty of Agriculture in Truro, Nova Scotia, where she spoke on reducing stress during animal handling. One of the messages she emphasized in her talk was, “don’t let bad become normal.” Bad stockmanship, as Dr. Grandin mentioned, is one of the easiest things to address in reducing stress in animals.
Another way to reduce stress in animals, whether it be cattle, horses, pigs or even sheep, is to acclimatize them to both people and objects in a positive way. This type of effort helps to ensure we have calmer livestock, which in turn is proven to promote better growth and longevity, better conception rates and overall improved productiveness.
Thinking Outside the Box and Inside the Corral
The improper use of prodding and persuading tools, and the associated stress to livestock in slaughterhouses, has been the focus of Dr. Grandin’s career. Ultimately, the rough handling of cattle and pigs in slaughterhouses produces tough beef and pale pork, neither of which are desirable meats. She specifically talked about electric prods never being used as a primary prod in persuading the movement and behaviour of livestock in the slaughterhouse.
Dr. Grandin is known also for how she completely redesigned the design and operation of stockyards, corrals and chutes based on what she observed as a measurable correlation between stress and productivity. Dr. Grandin’s observation that animals feel more comfortable when they are looping back in the direction from which they first came became a picture of how to reduce stress levels in livestock. Her new semi-circular corral design, coupled with the herd mentality of cattle, meant that stockyards could only coral smaller groups of animals at a time, but the results were clear, with lower animal stress and mortality rates in chutes and higher quality of animal products.
What You See Isn’t Always What You Get: Defining Your Own Success Story
I’ve spoken a lot about what Dr. Temple Grandin has done for the livestock industry, but, as I’m sure many of you have noticed, I haven’t mentioned one of the biggest things in Dr. Grandin’s life. Yes, you guessed it: her autism. There’s a reason for this.
At the end of her talk, Dr. Grandin said that, “growing up, I wanted an identity other than just ‘being autistic’.” I was so inspired by this – that Dr. Grandin redefined the way she wanted to be seen by figuring out what was unique and special about her and using it to make a difference.
That brings me back to the idea behind this post; Dr. Grandin explained how growing up she found it more difficult to communicate with words than other people. She found that sensory learning and communication was the most efficient way to portray her thoughts or, as she put it, “my mind works like Google for images. You put in a key word; it brings up pictures.” Throughout her time at school and through working with animals, Dr. Grandin realized that her way of “thinking in pictures” was how animals thought as well because animals physically can’t use words. This has been the basis for her extraordinary work with livestock and it is a lesson we can all take back to how we deal with our own animals.
The fundraiser sold over 250 tickets and appealed to a wide audience filled with people from different backgrounds, including a significant number who, just like Dr. Grandin, have autism or another form of disability.
Dr. Temple Grandin’s is an inspiration to many people in the agricultural industry, as well as the autism community, and her successes make her a role model for everyone. Her way of sensory thinking has allowed her to accomplish near-impossible feats with flying colors. And who knows? Maybe this unconventional way of thinking could be the key to your being as influential, successful and inspirational as Dr. Grandin!