UWRF Students Learn From Temple Grandin

Temple Grandin, known worldwide for her work as a proponent of the humane treatment of livestock and as a spokeswoman for autism, visited UW-River Falls Wednesday. A professor of animal science at Colorado State University, Grandin spent time with two animal behavior classes, answering students’ questions and discussing her work in the animal welfare field. She also toured campus facilities, including the campus Meat Pilot Plant

Students had the opportunity to interact with Grandin in small groups and in some cases have one-on-one discussions with her. The classes Grandin attended were question-and-answer sessions in which students queried her about everything from her career to the most humane livestock butchering practices. 

Grandin, 76, didn’t grow up on a farm, she told students, and was introduced to cattle as a teenager. She began her work in agriculture writing stories for an ag magazine. At that time, the agriculture world was dominated by men. Writing about agriculture offered Grandin a way into the industry, she said. 

“It wasn’t easy to be a woman and be in the agriculture industry in those days,” Grandin said. “If I hadn’t walked up to an editor and told him I wanted to write for him, and then produced one article and then another, I wouldn’t have done what I have since then. When you have an opportunity, you need to go for it. You never know what it will lead to.”

Grandin eventually moved on from writing to working directly in the agriculture industry. She developed new, more humane methods of dealing with animals. Among her many innovations that have become industry standards, Grandin developed a five-point scoring system to improve and track humane treatment of animals as part of the slaughtering process. Her ideas gained additional credibility, she said, when major food chains McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King saw the benefits.  

“I am most proud of my system for animal welfare. It helps ensure that animals are being treated more humanely,” she said. “It makes me feel like I have made a positive difference.”

Having autism can present challenges, according to Grandin, but has also worked to her benefit. She views the world in a visual manner that better enables her to see from animals’ perspectives and how to address their fears or concerns. 

“In a way (autism) works for me. It helps me see details that others don’t,” Grandin said.  

UWRF Animal Science Professor Kurt Vogel first met Grandin while working in a meat processing plant in Milwaukee. Grandin eventually convinced Vogel to study under her at Colorado State University. The two remain close friends, and Vogel credits Grandin with his professional success which includes his starting the Humane Handling Institute at UW-River Falls, the first-of-its-kind training program for meat processors.

Vogel said he was thankful and honored as he watched Grandin interact with students. 

“A lot of what I teach came from her. So she has already had her impact on my students,” Vogel said. “I am so happy to facilitate her connection to them.”