Cattle and pigs should be moved in small groups; sheep can be moved in larger groups. Distractions cause balking in cows. A lone animal is often the most dangerous animal. These are not facts that I expected to consider today.
Truth be told, I never would have considered them if I hadn’t been swayed from my original lunch hour plan (ice skating at Gutterson) by my colleague Elise. She asked if I was going to hear Temple Grandin speak. After I got over the initial embarrassment of not really knowing who Temple Grandin is (OK, yes, yes, I remember) and the secondary shame of not planning to attend a big campus event, I decided to go. The ice will be there tomorrow.
Temple Grandin—professor of animal sciences at Colorado State University, innovator for humane handling of animals in agricultural settings, leading thinker on the ethical treatment of animals, author, inspirational role model and voice for individuals with autism, and subject of a movie starring Claire Danes—spent a full day in Burlington through the efforts of the local humane society. UVM’s Animal Sciences Department helped bring her to campus for the talk and other events.
It wasn’t hard to spot Grandin as she ambled down the aisle of the chapel before the lecture, dressed in denim pants, an embroidered Western shirt, and a red kerchief around her neck.
A no-nonsense black-and-white slide titled “Livestock Behavior and Handling” was displayed on the screen as the chapel filled up. Not exactly a topic you would think would fill a chapel in Burlington, Vermont with a crowd that appeared to be largely students. Likely, Grandin’s bigger picture thoughts were what drew many, rather than matters such as closing up the slats on livestock chutes to avoid shadows that spook cattle or advice to avoid getting too excited when using a flag to direct cows (“people are always flappin’ and flippin’ these things around”).
Yet, while I didn’t find a lot at the talk that was directly applicable to my own life, given that the livestock at my home consists of a dog, a cat, and a Vietnamese fighting fish, time spent in the presence of this singular individual felt like time well spent. I wasn’t alone, as shown by the many who quickly rose to applaud at the end of her comments.
It’s good sometimes, I think, to get these glimpses into worlds we know nothing about. Universities are great for offering ample opportunity for that. Scan the calendar, choose your talk. With that in mind, I was struck by this comment Grandin made during the question and answer session that closed the event.
“I’m concerned that we’re raising a generation away from ag,” Grandin said. She cited a recent study in the UK that found 50% of young people “couldn’t connect the bacon with the pig.” There’s the good sense to know where one’s food is coming from, but there’s something more. “People are growing up totally away from practical things,” Grandin added. “Practical things teach practical problem solving.”