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A chat with Temple Grandin
SF: Why did the HBO movie about you focus so much on that beef cattle dipping vat?
TG: The movie was focused on the early part of my career, and that was one of my first big projects. That’s what got my business started. One of my inventions was having that nonslip ramp going into the dip vat.
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SF: What are the main features of that system?
TG: Well, basically, if you look at the aerial view of the dipping vat system, and it’s shown accurately in the movie, there’s a big, wide curved lane that comes up to the round crowd pen, the double “S” shape. That was my innovation. The other thing that I figured out was how to lay out the curved chute going back to the round tub. That junction where the chute joins the tub is really critical.
SF: The movie seemed to give pretty fair treatment to production agriculture.
TG: Yes, those were real feed yards. All the cattle stuff was accurate -- that was something I made sure of.
SF: It didn’t gloss over the trauma that does exist when we handle and slaughter livestock.
TG: Well, yes, the movie just showed it realistically. I think we have to open up the door and show what we’re doing. I find a well-run slaughterhouse passes that test.
SF: One of the themes in your career is that you have a special empathy with animals.
TG: I think it has to do with visual thinking. The very first work I did with cattle was to get down in the chutes and see what cattle were seeing. I wanted to see why the cattle were balking and not walking down one chute, and why they were walking down another chute easily. There may be a paper cup on the ground or a chain hanging down. I noticed that cattle will balk at shadows. Most people didn’t notice that. In my earliest work, I wrote about the things that make cattle balk.
SF: What are a couple keys to successfully handling livestock?
TG: Start out with the simple things. Put the hot shot away. Stop screaming. Stop putting so many cattle in the corral pit. Good handling takes more walking. Use following behavior. You’re going to have to bring up smaller groups of cattle to run through the system.
If you’re working cattle through the squeeze chute, wait until the single file has some space in it. Then, you bring up your next group of cattle, and they’ll go right through the corral pen and right into the chute. If the chute’s full, they’ll turn around on you.
SF: How about a tip on improving handling equipment?
TG: One of the simplest things you can do to improve an existing facility is set up portable panels, where you add one or two sections of panels so you can put at least five cows in a chute at a time. Now you don’t want it 100 feet long, but you want enough single-file space so you can use the following behavior. That’s a very simple thing that will improve a lot of facilities.
Learn more at Grandin.com