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Grandin talks about thought processes and livestock management during Torrington presentation

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

“What would happen to some of the top innovators today? What would happen to them in today’s educational system?” began Temple Grandin, celebrated animal welfare and behavior expert, autism advocate, author and professor, during a late March presentation at Eastern Wyoming Community College in Torrington. “Many of these innovators did not follow conventional educational paths.”

For example, Jane Goodall started her work with primates having only a two-year secretarial degree. Thomas Edison was labeled hyperactive and addled by his teachers but conducted his own experiments early on. Steven Spielberg was rejected from the top film school due to poor grades.

Thought processes

Grandin explained that there are a number of different kinds of “thinkers.” She is a visual thinker – one who thinks entirely in pictures. In this case, keywords trigger visual associations rather than abstractions.

For example, when given the word “tractor,” she responds by describing in detail the tractors she had seen in her life, instead of giving a generalized depiction of a tractor. Drafters are also visual thinkers.

Other thinkers include pattern thinkers – mathematicians and engineers, and still others are verbal thinkers.

Applying it to ag

Grandin started applying her thinking style to cattle behavior after spending time on an aunt’s ranch. She took a special interest in the squeeze chute that was used to restrain the animals and decided she could improve upon it.

She became more fascinated with cattle and what motivated their behavior. At feedlots, she watched the livestock closely, noticing that they balked at sunbeams, shadows, parked cars and even coats on fences. She thought about what they were seeing that made them act in a fearful way.

She used this knowledge to improve methods of handling cattle, such as putting lights at the entrance of a chute to encourage them to go inside. If there was any tin showing on the walls, she advised that it be removed and replaced with white translucent plastic, so they could see through it.

“It’s amazing what lighting can do,” she commented. “It can make or break us.”

Cattle also need to have secure footing, and this concept was used to redesign a dip vat for treating mites. Her ingenuity in designing working facilities took advantage of the natural tendency of cattle to travel in a circle and to go back to where they came from.


Grandin said that today, cattle handling is much better.

Each year, about half of the cattle in the U.S. and Canada are processed in cruelty-free facilities she has designed.

Now she is starting to see other issues she feels are caused by selection for genetic traits that is too narrow.

In the late 80s, this happened when the hog industry bred pigs for big loin eyes, rapid growth and thin backfat. The result was aggressive animals with foot and leg problems.

Lameness in dairy cattle is also increasing. Fat feedlot cattle are dying of heart defects, and so far, a specific cause has not been determined. A few proposed reasons include heart disease, brisket disease or simply large size, which puts stress on the heart.

“Don’t go overboard in selecting for traits,” warned Grandin. “It can get us into trouble.”

Grandin’s feelings about farm animals and how their existence could be improved was a big motivator for her accomplishments. She stressed that animals intended for food deserve to have a good life, as well as a death that’s free from fear and pain.

Grandin’s presentation was sponsored by the Western History Center of Lingle and funded in part by Go Goshen Tourism.

Melissa Burke is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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