Opinion: Farming legend Temple Grandin reviews handling system

I can only describe it as the agricultural equivalent of having Tiger Woods staring at you while you take a swing at the local driving range.

We’ve run tens of thousands of cattle through our handling system over the past decade, but this was very different.

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About the author

Ian Farrant
Ian Farrant is a beef farmer from Herefordshire. His farm is part of a larger family partnership with dairy and arable enterprises. He’s exploring options for regenerative farming and is introducing new enterprises, including planting 6ha of hazelnut trees.
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As we pushed a group through the race, it wasn’t the camera crew or the great and good of AHDB watching that had my heart pumping, but a 75-year-old American lady, dressed in her trademark cowboy shirt and bolo tie, watching our every move.

We don’t really do celebs in our industry, but occasionally someone extraordinary comes along and changes farming for the better.

Temple Grandin most definitely ticks that box. Diagnosed with autism as a two-year-old, and non-verbal until four, institutionalism was highly recommended.

Seven decades, various PhDs, degrees, a Hollywood biopic (which I highly recommend) and a listing in Time magazine’s 100 most influential people later, it’s safe to say she proved them wrong.

While she always found understanding humans exceedingly difficult, she nurtured her natural ability to understand animals, in particular cattle.

Whether it’s a shadow on the floor, or a flapping piece of string, she can pinpoint the flaws in a handling facility without even seeing cattle running through it.

Now more than 50% of cattle in the US are handled in a system designed by Temple.

The AHDB had managed to tie her down for a couple of days and wanted to do some filming on farm, so I jumped at the chance of inviting them here.

It’s incredibly important to remind yourself just how dangerous handling cattle can be. I’m certainly guilty of getting blasé when handling large groups, as we do it so often.

A frightened 650kg animal (or worse, a group of them), is capable of doing serious damage. If you are in the wrong place and the wrong time, you don’t stand much chance.

Temple explained how a well-thought-out handling system, run quietly and calmly, is absolutely essential to keeping staff and cattle safe, and also ensures efficient use of time.

While our handling system just about cut the mustard (other than the need to regroove the concrete), it was when we discussed the loading ramp and the potential issues we have pushing 38 cattle on to a lorry, that she became more animated.

She simply couldn’t understand why in the UK, cattle lorries have full-width tailgates.

In the US and elsewhere, cattle are run, single file, into narrow openings, which makes loading significantly safer for both cattle and humans.

She told me our system was “stupid”, and afterwards she explained why.

I completely agree. Trying to force six 650kg fat cattle up a tailgate isn’t without its risks.

A single-file, follow-the-leader chute would make life significantly less stressful for both man and beast.

Unfortunately, lorries won’t change until farmers have single-file chutes and farmers won’t pay for single-file chutes, until lorries have changed, so I can’t see wholesale change coming anytime soon.

Keep an eye out on the AHDB website for various videos and webinars they recorded with Temple; the passion with which she speaks is truly mesmerising.

Our industry has a huge amount to learn from her.

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