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For Temple Grandin, Big Farms Aren’t Necessarily Bad Farms

Courtesy Colorado State University Photography
Colorado State University animal science professor Temple Grandin is best known for her work improving livestock treatment at slaughter facilities.

An outspoken advocate for humane animal treatment, animal science professor Temple Grandin still teaches classes at Colorado State University and consults with livestock operations across the country. While she is best known for cleaning up slaughterhouses, lately she’s been focusing more of her attention to farms.

2015 was a big year for animal welfare advocates. An Idaho judge overturned a so-called “ag-gag” law, which criminalized undercover recording of farms and ranches. Large companies, like Denver-based Leprino Foods, instituted new animal treatment guidelines, while at the same time multiple farms in Colorado were the subject of such videos. Animal agriculture has made strides to treat animals better, Grandin says, but some segments remain stubborn to change, and continue to use handling techniques she says can only be construed as animal abuse.

Interview Highlights With Temple Grandin

On Animal Welfare on Farms

"When I see a problem now, it's something that has to be fixed at the farm."

“When I see a problem now, it’s something that has to be fixed at the farm. Somebody brings in an emaciated, half dead dairy cow. That just shouldn’t be there. Then there’s problems with just pushing animals too hard. So when I’m seeing a problem now, it’s something I’m going to have to fix outside the plant. And I think in raising animals, like a chicken, a laying hen for example, she’s been bred so much for egg production that you have very high levels of broken keel bones and osteoporosis. That’s pushing the system just too hard. You can push it too hard with genetics. And that would be the hen. Or with the dairy cows, that’s all genetics. Or you can push it too hard with a feed additive. We have to start looking at what’s the optimal thing to do, not the maximum thing to do.”

On “Factory Farms”

"I've been in big places that are really good. I've been in big places that are bad. It gets down to attitude of management."

“The survey data shows very clearly that consumers think big is bad. But what I’ve found is badly managed is bad. The thing that’s kind of ironic is when we started doing those audits for McDonald’s and Wendy’s, we got the big plants cleaned up before we got the little plants cleaned up. I’ve been in big places that are really good. I’ve been in big places that are bad. It gets down to attitude of management. You’ve got to make sure you don’t over work and under staff.”

On Undercover Activist Video Recordings

“I’ve got a saying, ‘heat softens steel, and then I can bend it.’ And activist videos have been heat that has softened steel. Now, what I’ve noticed on activist videos is the things that are showing up on them now are less bad. Now I’ve been around since the 1970s, and before there were any little tiny video cameras, in the 80s and early 90s, I saw stuff that made those activist video look like training videos. When I was working on equipment installation in the 80s and early 90s, I saw horrendous stuff go on. Really horrendous stuff. Ten times worse than any recent activist video.”

As KUNC’s managing editor and reporter covering the Colorado River Basin, I dig into stories that show how water issues can both unite and divide communities throughout the Western U.S. I edit and produce feature stories for KUNC and a network of public media stations in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, California and Nevada.
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