Nov. 27, 2019

The inspiring Dr. Temple Grandin comes to campus

Renowned expert on animal welfare and handling visits UCalgary students and W.A. Ranches

They talked about feedlots, animal flight zones and genetic selection. Students, faculty and staff at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (UCVM) were thrilled this week to spend time with Dr. Temple Grandin, PhD, a world-famous expert on animal welfare and handling. In a career spanning five decades, the professor of animal science at Colorado State University has written books and hundreds of papers on animal handling and behaviour, and designed curved chutes and other facilities that reduce animal stress at cattle ranches and meat plants around the world.

“I don’t know where the cattle industry would be without her input,” says Cale Toews, a first- year student at UCVM. “I grew up on a cattle ranch and the handling system and skills that I use every day and that our cattle use every day come from her. To see first-hand her passion and drive to strive for a higher standard of animal welfare in agriculture is just incredible.” Meeting Grandin at UCVM was “a bucket list item,” he says.

  • Photo above: Dr. Grandin toured W.A. Ranches, the university’s working, teaching ranch near Cochrane, and spoke to staff while sitting around the ranch’s kitchen table. Photo by Todd Korol

After discussing distractions and other principles of animal handling with Toews and his classmates, Grandin spoke about the need to communicate well. “I had a student today ask ‘How do you make change?’ I said ‘I did a project, did something innovative and I wrote about it.’ Good writing skills were a really important part of my career because I wrote about my projects and that’s one of the ways you make change.”

She also passed on advice she received as a young woman:  “Don’t be so negative. Show how to fix stuff. That was good advice, so I took it — show how to do it right, don’t just criticize things.”

Some students brought Grandin’s books for her to sign and lined up to get pictures with her. “She loves talking to students,” says Dr. Ed Pajor, PhD, the Anderson-Chisholm Chair in Animal Care and Welfare at UCVM and director of W.A. Ranches. “They’re the future of cattle handling and agriculture. Good handling skills and caring about animal welfare is a key component of that.”

Dr. Grandin discusses cattle handling practices with Ed Pajor and Matt Williams.

Dr. Grandin discusses cattle handling practices with Ed Pajor and Matt Williams.

Todd Korol

Touring the ranch

After speaking with students, Grandin headed out to tour W.A. Ranches, the university’s working, teaching ranch near Cochrane. “What we’re trying to do is make sure that any kind of handling system we use at W.A. Ranches is low stress and the best possible,” says Pajor. “And we have the world’s leading expert here to help us do that.”

Grandin, who has autism, credits her visual thinking for advancing her work with animals. “The first stuff I ever did in the 1970s, I went out to the feed yard and observed that if there was a shadow, or a coat on a fence, or a truck parked next to a facility, the cattle would stop and not go through,” she told staff while sitting around the ranch’s kitchen table wearing one of her trademark cowboy shirts. “I realized I was seeing that because I am a visual thinker.”

Among other topics, they talked about an increase in diseased cattle showing up at feedlots. “That never used to happen,” says Grandin. “It’s breeding, it’s genetic. The problem is when you select for something it affects something else. You can’t just breed for production traits.”

Matt Williams, the general manager of W.A. Ranches, really enjoyed talking with Grandin.  “All of us in the room are professionals in cattle and to have her come sit and chat with us and exchange information is cool.”

Williams has worked with cattle at least as long as Grandin, and he remembers the days before her work changed the industry.  “We used to have to jam cattle. It took a whole army of guys to get cattle to the chute and it was stressful on the men, on the cattle, it was stressful on all concerned,” he says. “Since Temple Grandin has come along, we can be more efficient and it’s much easier on the cattle – it’s all because of her. She’s amazing.”

Grandin speaks to ranchers and 4-H clubs at Dog Pound Community Hall.

Grandin speaks to ranchers and 4-H club members at Dog Pound Community Hall.

Claire Windeyer

A generous spirit

Grandin capped off her visit by spending the evening at the Dog Pound Community Hall, where she spoke to a packed house of ranchers and 4-H clubs about cattle handling. For Pajor, who first met Grandin 25 years ago, and has collaborated with her on research projects as well as numerous animal welfare advisory committees, it’s just another example of her generous spirit.

“Although Temple is known around the world for her expertise in cattle handling and improving the lives of animals, few know of the hours she spends on the phone counseling people with autism or the parents of children with autism, hoping to make their lives better as well. Spending a few days with Temple Grandin is both humbling and inspiring,” says Pajor.