A world renowned animal behaviour professor has told an SRUC seminar that to increase animal welfare we must move away from words and take a more sensory based approach.
Professor Grandin is autistic and believes that it is her ability to think in pictures that has allowed her to become a visionary within the animal behaviour world by focusing on trying to understand how animals see, feel and think. Half of the cattle in the United States are now processed using facilities she designed and her guidelines on livestock handling have become the industry norm.
During her visit to Scotland Professor Grandin gave a seminar at the Roslin Institute which drew a sell-out crowd of over 250 SRUC staff and students from across the country.
She outlined how her emphasis has changed from designing machines to ensure animal welfare to creating simple effective guidelines to be followed throughout the production process. She pointed out that animals who fear humans are less productive and good stockmanship training increases productivity making it a win-win solution.
She said: “We need to think about what animals are seeing. They store it as a picture therefore they are very specific. A person outside a pen is a different picture than a person inside a pen. A man on foot is a different picture than man on horse. I see movies in my head and this has helped me understand animals.”
Overbreeding is another problem which she addressed - warning that there are always trade-offs when breeding an animal specifically for food or aesthetics. A striking example she used was comparing the modern bulldog (bottom photo below) to its 19th century counterpart (top photo below).
She said: “We have a problem of bad becoming normal, modern bulldogs are not functional - lameness in dairy cows is another example of this. When changes happen slowly over time we lose sight of what is important to measure.”
Professor Grandin has just been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in the United States for “achievements that have changed the course of American history.”
Philip Wrigglesworth, lecturer in Agriculture at the Aberdeen campus, brought his class to the seminar. He said: “It was inspirational - Temple is incredibly knowledgeable, but also a very engaging speaker with a wealth of both research and practical experience in the world of animal welfare. Our students are currently studying the animal welfare and behaviour module, so a talk from Temple was unbeatable.”
Professor Grandin also kindly donated three of her newest books to the SRUC. She said: “I would sign them but someone would probably steal them! I want them to remain in the library so they can be used by as many people as possible.”
The visit was organised by SRUC researchers Dr Scott Denholm and Dr Stephanie Smith. They asked Animal Welfare students to vote on a speaker they would most like to see and Professor Grandin received the most votes.
Dr Smith said: “I feel very honoured to have met and hosted Professor Grandin at SRUC, she is such a knowledgeable, thought-provoking and yet courteous and charming woman. I learnt so much during her visit and so glad the students voted for her. She was so keen to inspire and hear from students and early career researchers."
Photo 1: Professor Grandin with Professor Alistair Stott, Principal and Chief Executive Professor Wayne Powell, Dr Scott Denholm and Dr Stephanie Smith.
Photo 2: 19th Century depiction of a bulldog. Image from Gaia Research.
Photo 3: Modern day bulldog. Image from Tammy Lo Flickr creative commons.