Livestock producers, you are doing good things — at least Temple Grandin thinks so.
“I have been in this industry for 45 years, and there has been a lot of improvement,” she said at Alberta Farm Animal Care’s Livestock Care Conference last month.
But the problem is that so few people — including, sometimes, producers themselves — realize the gains that have been made.
“I do a lot of talks to colleges and universities outside of the livestock industry,” she said. “We’ve done a lot of great things, and nobody knows about it.”
Grandin cited numerous improvements, such as fixing endemic lameness issues in broiler chickens.
“(Broiler chicken breeders) have actually corrected (lameness). Now they have big tree-truck legs. But nobody knows about it.”
That sector also used to have major issues with aggressive breeding roosters.
“I wrote some pretty bad things about roosters,” said Grandin. “Killer roosters tearing up hens. (In the past) they had to cut toes off and put nosebones in the beaks of the roosters (a thin straw placed in the beak to keep the rooster out of the hen’s feeder).”
This fall, while training auditors at a large broiler breeder barn, she noted the roosters had all their toes, nosebones weren’t used, and yet the birds weren’t ripping up hens anymore.
“That problem has been corrected.”
Curious, Grandin spent hours Googling for information about the new kinder, gentler broiler rooster. She found nothing and concluded the changes happened so gradually, no one had noticed.
“I was shocked that I couldn’t find Mr. Nice Guy Rooster either in a scientific paper or an advertisement with a picture of the rooster. They just talked about different genetic lines.”
But the reverse — what she calls “bad becoming normal” — has also been true.
Like “nasty roosters,” producers had become accustomed to lame cows and pigs with poor leg conformation.
“How did the (dairy) industry get up to twenty-five per cent lame cows?” she asked. “They just got used to looking at it. It got to be a real mess before doing anything about it. Or the pig industry getting poor leg conformation issues. It gets really bad and then you finally realize, ‘It’s totally bad.’”
For too long, people in the livestock sector mistakenly believed that better equipment was the answer to every problem — a view Grandin said she once held, too. She said she thought there was a “magical system” that would replace management.
“I made that mistake for 10 years,” she said, adding “engineering and equipment fixes half the problems,” but better management is the other half of the solution.
The big driver in improving animal welfare practices has been audits, she said.
“In 1999, I implemented the McDonald’s audits in the States and I saw more change than I had seen in my entire 25-year career prior to that.”
Initially, audits found a lot of equipment was broken or not working properly.
“We made them fix stuff,” said Grandin. “Most of the things we made them do in the plants was fixing stuff and simple stuff.”
But the true power of audits came from setting standards. Plants she audits must meet five measures: 95 per cent of animals killed on the first shot; all animals dead on the rail; no more than one per cent (pigs or cattle) falling down in the facility; electric prods used no more than 25 per cent of the time; and vocalization in the stun box at three per cent or less.
These are attainable results, Grandin said, and not meeting them is a sure sign of wider problems.
“When you get cattle mooing in the stun box, you have a pile of trouble going on — slamming doors on them and squeezing them too hard,” she said. “You do something bad in the stun box, your vocalization score is going to be 20 to 30 per cent.”
Processing facilities she audits have a 98 to 99 per cent success rate when stunning, which is a huge improvement from the past. Scoring also drives longer-term improvements, she said, citing advances in loose sow housing systems.
“You’ve got to pick genetics of pigs that don’t fight so much. There are certain breeds of pigs out there that are fit to live together,” Grandin said.
And there needs to be consequences for those who aren’t achieving results.
“Things have to be very clear as to what is not acceptable, so if I have to remove somebody (from the supplier chain), it is clear.”
On the other hand, Grandin had high praise for Canada’s newly launched Certified Sustainable Beef Framework.
“That’s way ahead of what other people are doing,” she said. “You have all these stakeholders together and talking, you’re probably going to set the standard for the world.”
The next step is to let the world know what you’re doing.
And that means more than just talking about facts and processes — values matter more than science, she said.
“If the scientist was a mom and she eats that same food, she had more credibility than just a scientist,” said Grandin.
Farmers who blog or have websites detailing what they do are powerful advocates, she added.
“We need to show people that cattle chutes aren’t torture machines. We need to explain why we need to use the squeeze chute.”
And farmers also need to talk about their own lives. Schoolkids love to see photos of farmers and ranchers using quads, bikes, tractors, and loaders — “What’s chores to you is interesting to others.”
And parents take note of what farmers do in their own kitchens.
“We eat the things we raise on our ranch, and I’m not going to feed my kids something bad,” she said. “Those are shared values. I think that’s an important take-home message.”