Meeting one of your heroes is always going to be a momentous occasion.
When that hero is an internationally recognised mastermind in animal handling, and one of the first people to ever verbalise what it’s like to be autistic, the appreciation escalates to a new level. You have the opportunity to allow this person to affect your life, and the way you do your job on a seriously fundamental level.
This living legend is Professor Temple Grandin, an American Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University. Professor Grandin is a consultant to the livestock industry on animal behaviour, and an autism spokesperson.
The Forrest family, owners of Harvest Road Group, are developing a new Harvey Beef feeding facility that is in early planning stages south of Moora.
The Forrest Family and the Harvest Road Group invited Professor Grandin to Australia for advice on the planning and layout of animal handling systems for the new facility.
This involved Professor Grandin visiting Minderoo Station in the Pilbara to see an example of Western Australia’s cattle, then visiting Harvey Beef to view the plant, and finally visiting Koojan Downs to view the potential of the land acquired for this purpose. An intense few days!
After hearing an ABC interview, the Moora Chamber of Commerce applied to the Harvest Road Group to host Professor Grandin in Moora, to speak of her autism journey, as well as her animal handling systems. They very generously offered their time, and she came and was warmly welcomed by the local community.
Professor Grandin strongly believes that while nature can be cruel, we don’t have to be. The ethical treatment of animals leading to slaughter is as important as the care and nurture the animal receives throughout its lifetime.
Almost half of the cattle in North America are handled in a single chute system that Professor Grandin designed especially for meat plants.
In addition, the curved chute and race systems she has designed for cattle are used worldwide, and she is one of the pioneers of Low Stress Stock Handling with her description and analysis of the animals “flight zone”.
It was deeply interesting to hear the Professor speak of how to tell where in your yards you may have issues – shadows, changes in ground, loose items and different coloured panels all have a huge bearing on how your stock move through your system.
Her advice is to accustom the animals to this space and allow them to wander through at their own pace – with you watching for where the lead animal lowers its head down to inspect something it doesn’t trust. These are the areas you can then change, or fix.
Grandin stressed that the footing in these facilities was crucial to animals feeling safe moving through the yards – she restated again that a simple broom brush finish on concrete was insufficient grip for hoofed animals.
The autism gene that appears in people is strikingly similar to that which causes Schizophrenia, according to Grandin – it confers greater development at the base of the brain than it does on the front of the brain, where social preferences lie.
Some autistic people think in colour, others think in pictures (very similar to how animals think), while others have the savant autism, whereby they can think in maths, in maps, or in associative recall gifts.
“I am different,” says Grandin, “Not wrong.”
Professor Grandin states that the world needs autistic thinkers. She says that, “If there were no autism, man would never have moved away from socialising around the campfire, invented the wheel, nor achieved the Moon landing.”
Grandin visits NASA regularly, and recounts visiting the design laboratories of over 100 scientists – the room is totally silent, with each scientist avidly concentrating on their screens.
The high point of the day was local lad Alex Wasley, being so impressed by a famous person ‘just like him’. He felt empowered enough to introduce himself to Professor Grandin. They spent some time in deep conversation, with Wasley saying how in awe of her he still is.
The Moora Chamber of Commerce would like to reiterate just how grateful we are to the Forrest family and Harvest Road Group for allowing such precious time with such an inspiring mind as that of Temple Grandin.
We are very fortunate indeed, and I finish with one of the comments on the day: “Very inspiring. Direct, practical, intelligent and honest – I found her endearing too. Precious and unforgettable. (the passionfruit melting moments deserve a special mention as well).”