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Grandin highlights trends in agriculture, looks at impacts on the industry

Written by Natasha Wheeler

Fort Collins, Colo. – “How did I get my passion for cattle? I was exposed to them as a teenager,” states Temple Grandin, animal sciences professor at Colorado State University.

Grandin outlines some of the trends she sees in agriculture, noting that some challenges can be seen moving forward.

Problem-solving

“A big problem that we have today is a younger generation who is growing up with no hands-on experience,” she says.

Classes teaching cooking, sewing, woodworking, welding, theater, band and more have been disappearing from school curriculums, which is a disadvantage to students.

“Students don’t fix things,” she comments, also noting that the lack of exposure to agriculture in schools is troubling.

Ag exposure

To get young people involved in agriculture, they have to be exposed to it.

“There is a hunger for agriculture. That’s why people are planting city gardens and taking an interest in locally-grown products,” Grandin adds.

Millennials want to know about agriculture, and the community needs to be reaching out to them.

“One of the things that frustrates me is a lot of young people today do not know about the good things that the industry has done,” Grandin states.

A recent survey of 28 feedlots found that electric cattle prods are, for the most part, no longer used.

“The worst feedlot had 25 percent of cattle getting electric prodding, but back in the bad old days, it was 500 percent. There has been a big improvement,” she explains.

Corporate focus

Another trend for the industry has been the increase of corporate concern about the animal welfare.

In 1999, Grandin worked with McDonalds, implementing animal welfare standards.

“Only 30 percent of the slaughter plants could shoot 95 percent of the cattle dead on the first shot,” she notes.

Plants were not managing their equipment well, and broken or poorly-maintained tools were a major cause for that statistic.

“When McDonalds, Wendy’s and other companies started auditing those plants, it resulted in huge changes,” she says.

 Consumer interest triggered corporate concern, and many changes were seen in the industry, she explains.

Size implications

Survey data shows that many consumers believe that big is bad when it comes to agriculture, but Grandin doesn’t necessarily agree.

“Big is fragile,” she states.

To illustrate her point, she discusses power lines in Kansas that were been broken in an ice storm. The effects of the big grid could have been substantial.

“If one more row had been broken, ‘big’ would have been down,” she says, explaining that large systems have the potential to result in more widespread impacts.

Welfare

Consumers are also worried about animal welfare.

“They don’t like animals in little bitty boxes, and they want to make sure that when animals are slaughtered, they are killed nicely,” Grandin explains.

She believes that most consumers have very little or no understanding of how many agricultural practices work.

“We’ve got to explain things,” she comments.

Biology

Grandin is also concerned about what she terms “overload of biology.”  

As an example, she highlights dairy cows that have been developed to produce large quantities of milk but now have trouble reproducing.

“We have to start looking at optimal production,” she states.

Grandin mentions that she is beginning to see troubling confirmation in the feet and legs of cattle in the feedlots, likely resulting from pressure on other genetic traits.

“Be careful with those genomic tools,” she warns. “I am not saying not to use them. Power tools are good, but I can cut my hand off with a circular saw a lot faster than I can with a hand saw.”

Traits are linked, she notes, and pushing biology too hard, with genetics or with drugs, can result in unintended consequences.

Grandin adds, “I’ve probably stirred up a bunch of trouble here, and that’s good. I want to make people think.”

Grandin spoke at the International Livestock Forum in Fort Collins, Colo. on Jan. 13.

Natasha Wheeler is editor at the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..