My husband and I decided to take in the Harvestival celebration up at Grant Family Farms in Wellington, Colorado about one hour north up the freeway. I had been looking forward to going for a few weeks, because I saw on the newsletter that Dr.Temple Grandin was going to be speaking there and as far as I was concerned, Dr.Grandin alone was worth driving up there for. In case you are not familiar with her, Dr. Grandin is autistic, has a doctorate degree in animal science and is a highly respected EXPERT on animal behavior, particularly cows, as well as a best selling author and consultant in the animal industry field. Her autism she considers a gift and it gives her the ability to see what cattle and other livestock are seeing through their eyes. She sees things in pictures, just as they do, giving her an extreme advantage and knowledge of how they should be handled to avoid stress and discomfort .
We arrived to Harvestival just a little late, but Dr. Grandin wasn’t speaking until the afternoon, so we still had time to see other things. We kept ourselves fairly occupied while waiting for her to arrive. At one point we walked across the road to view REAL free range chickens running around and they were looking pretty happy to be running around. The farm had gutted out old school buses and had built in perching nest for them and had straw covered floors. These were some giddy looking chickens. Finally the time was near and we had ten minutes to spare, so we walked back across the road again and went back inside the Harvestival. There standing in the crowd talking to someone in all of her autistic glory, was most recognizably, Dr. Temple Grandin . She was finishing up having her photo taken with a fan, when I whispered to my husband that I wished I could get my photo taken with her too. He encouraged me to do so as he felt she seemed approachable. I have never been around autistic people before and I was afraid I would do something wrong and offend her, I am known for being a bit animated myself and overly affectionate at times. I am undoubtedly an autistic person’s worst nightmare, but I flat out asked her anyway, she was my hero and I had to try. With no expression, no emotion, she politely agreed.
After the photo was taken, I mentioned my blog. I told her I had written about her and my post “Bovine Angel, Dr. Temple Grandin” was to date, my most popular blog post and had received more hits than any other posting. She then wanted to know how many hits I had on the post about her (hundreds) She encouraged me to make it into my own website and upgrade. Maybe she was impressed of her own popularity, as modesty seems to be her true self. We talked about feedlots and ranch work, then I mentioned I had done both. We now had a small connection and she said to me more than once that “people do not see it” they do not see what problems they cause livestock and how it can be easily fixed, “they just do not see it”. Soon it was time for her to go and she took her place at the podium.
We took a front row, straw bale seat. As I looked around the Harvestival,the crowd had tripled. People had come a lot later in the day and I am quite sure, it was to see her. As the straw bales filled up, the crowd became quiet. Then Dr. Grandin began to talk. A modest but very matter of fact in her way of thinking, Dr. Grandin is the Mr. Spock of this century and actually last century too, as she has been around helping humans understand livestock since the early 70’s. She has a practical way of looking at things and very obvious solutions to fixing them and though no one in the audience shared her autism, she made us understand, she taught us to understand. The subject of horse slaughtering came up. I am a horse person, I trained them for many years. When the bill was introduced to end horse slaughtering in this country, I voted YES. My intentions, like many other horse people were good, but we actually did a disservice to the horses, because we did not think it through. Though the bill was passed a few years ago to outlaw horse slaughtering in the USA, now people haul them down to Mexico to be slaughtered there instead and the conditions are unregulated and much worse. I am a person who keeps my horses, even when they are old, I feel they have earned it, but not everyone feels this sense of responsibility. Dr Grandin does believe horse slaughtering in this country is necessary, until someone can come up with a better solution as what to do with the extra horses people no longer want. She feels that sending horses to Mexico, is the worst solution of all. It taught me a lesson, to think things through better and the outcome of cause and affect.
The discussion of dogs came up, how we can no longer as a society socialize them, with so many leash laws today. During her childhood, dogs ran free and learned to get along with other dogs. Humans do not try to learn animal behavior, we are so disconnected from nature and other life on this earth. Our solution is to ban a breed of dog because of our lack of understanding them or raising them properly. We do not change the way we raise them, we just blame the dog breed and then move on to wreck the next breed. She described how the simplest of changes, from the way light hits the cattle chutes and the pens they are kept in, to a simple chain or rag hanging over a fence can alarm cattle, or cause them distress to act up and cause harm to themselves when being handled. Animals see things in pictures, just like she does and when they have been abused they do not forget. Her amazing ability to be able to take that gift and use it for the benefit of the livestock we eat, is the greatest thing. McDonalds, Wendy’s, Harris Ranch and Whole Foods are just a few of the national corporations who use Dr. Grandin’s livestock designs .
Dr. Grandin with her dry and almost seemingly missing sense of humor, actually joked that she would take questions from the audience and if no one had a question for her, she would pick someone and ask them a question instead. Well needless to say there were plenty of us with our hands raised. People seeing her as the messiah of all food and animal welfare concerns, asked questions about organic food, the listeria scare, RAW milk and if eating meat was bad. Though her field of expertise lies in animal science and animal behavior, she took them all and answered as honestly and thoroughly as possible and without hesitation. Listeria is a scary thing and she wants us all to be very careful with it, pay attention to your food and where it comes from , listeria can kill you. I did not get the impression she was for or against organic foods or RAW milk. She simply stated that organic food is expensive and she is not going to tell someone who has a family and who only makes 7.00 an hour to buy organically. Her feeling on RAW milk is that you had better trust your supplier. As long as it is a milk producer you can really trust and know well it could be ok, but is nothing to mess around with. Make sure the milk producer does not introduce outside cows into their own milk herd and mix the cows. Outside cattle could bring in tuberculosis and other diseases and these things are serious. Meat eating is something she accepts. She knows certain animals are here for our consumption, we raise them to eat them, we need the protein, but that does not excuse our poor animal management or ill treatment of the livestock we eat. Animal welfare for her is the most important issue of all. It’s what she does best.
I raised my hand twice and I was picked twice. Maybe because we took a picture together, or maybe it was the bright pink shirt I was wearing and the fact that we were sitting in the front row, but I took my moment. Did she feel that meat producers and facilities had changed to her standards of facility design out of human compassion for the animals or was it merely a business decision? She responded that in the early 70’s she definitely had to show on paper how they could save money and time doing things her way with the cattle. These days, facilities do it because of the new animal welfare laws that are in place, they are afraid not to do it. She admitted that she meets a lot of wonderful people in the livestock business that genuinely want to make things better, and others according to her do not have any business working with livestock at all. I get the impression she thinks a lot of McDonalds and appreciated the fact that they as a corporation genuinely wanted to change how they handled their beef cattle. She eats there sometimes and as a person who does not like bread, she will order the sausage muffin, throw out the muffin and eat only the sausage and then order fresh apple slices to go with it for her breakfast. Her biggest challenge, is avoiding the free pastries that are served at the hotel where she stays most of the time. She travels and lectures to people across the nation, 90% of the time.
My second question: Why doesn’t she run for Secretary of Agriculture, which drew many shouts and clapping from the rows behind me. Her answer was simple: people who run for those positions have a vested interest and that is not what she is about. When asked how she chose this career, according to her it was fate after spending time on her Aunt’s feedlot as a kid. She saw what needed to change and she knew how to change it and the rest is history. The one thing she mentioned that really hit home with me, was she talked about the food wars. She is tired of the big food producers fighting the little food producers. Her final thought on that was, they all just need to tell the truth, let the public decide and move on. I had just written about that very thing in my latest blog post And the food fights continue and it only confirmed that maybe I am on the right track after all. Dr. Grandin wanted her introduction and credentials given by the emcee to be modest and short. She shows no reaction of her popularity, she makes no brag about herself, she is confident, she is truthful and she is the most real human being I have ever met. This makes it no surprise to why she remains the most popular subject on my blog. People are seeking her out, because they want to understand and they know, she does in fact “see it”… even if they don’t.