September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.

The woman who thinks like a cow

By Kelli [email protected] | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

"Nature is cruel, but we don't have to be."
"I think using animals for food is an ethical thing to do, but we've got to do it right. We've got to give those animals a decent life and we've got to give them a painless death. We owe the animal respect."
These two quotes are by Temple Grandin.
Temple Grandin is an extraordinary person, and I think she is someone every person involved with livestock should learn more about.
I recently watched the movie titled Temple Grandin (I got it through Netflix, and many libraries have it as well). It is a story that will always stay with me It also prompted me to learn more about this amazing person.
Temple was diagnosed with autism in 1950, a time when not many people knew much about the disorder. I think the first time I ever heard of autism was in the late 1980s when the movie Rainman came out. Now, for unknown reasons, there are so many cases of it that almost everyone knows a family that deals with it.
Temple didn't speak until she was almost 4 years old, but was fortunate enough to have a family that did not institutionalize her as the "experts" advised them to. She was also fortunate to have a family with resources to help her learn and grow as a person.
She is now a doctor of animal science, a professor at Colorado State University, a best selling author and a consultant to the livestock industry on animal behavior. She is also widely known for her work with autism.
While spending summers on her aunt and uncle's ranch as a young adult, Temple realized that cows can easily go into sensory overload, much as many people with autism do.
Many people with autism have hyperactive senses. They don't like loud noises, they are particular about food texture, or cannot handle busy places.
Temple was able to "think like a cow" and notice every detail that the cows would, and she began to research the cows' behavior. She crawled through a cattle chute, and noticed every detail with the light, shadows, noise, etc. with amazing attention to details. She was able to design entire animal handling systems so the cows remain calm.
In fact, today, more than half of the cattle handling systems in North America are built based on her humane designs.
She mostly studied beef cows, but the brain function of dairy versus beef in this regard is likely pretty minimal. Maybe there is more to be learned from her.
One of the more interesting parts was she realized that once cattle were closed in a chute they calmed down. She tried it on herself and found that it calmed her down as well. She built a "hug machine" based on a cattle chute and it helped her to become more social and try new things in life. It is pretty common that autistic people don't like to be touched, but she equates being closed in her hug machine as having the same psychological effect that others get from hugging another person without the "scariness" of having to touch another person.
I grew up on a dairy farm, but never once thought about the way a cow likes to move. I never thought about the fact that they may not like shadows because they can't see well without good light. I had never thought about how the shadows created by a cattle chute could instead seem like a scary object. Maybe you haven't thought of those things either.
Plus, most of us know a family dealing with autism, and there is much to be learned about that as well. I asked some people I know who have autistic children what they think of Temple Grandin and what she has to say. They responded that Grandin has increased the quality of life for people with autism.
If cows could talk, they would likely say she has increased the quality of their lives, too.  
You can learn more at
Kelli Boylen is a former full-time Dairy Star staff member who is now a regular freelance writer for the paper. She grew up on a dairy farm in southern Wisconsin and now lives in Northeast Iowa with her husband and two children. Kelli also writes a blog at[[In-content Ad]]


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