Temple Grandin wearing a red western style shirt pets a black cow.

Dr. Temple Grandin is an American professor of Animal Sciences at Colorado State University, a designer of livestock handling facilities and a prolific author on the subjects of animal welfare and autism. Dr. Grandin delivered a 2010 TED lecture entitled The World Needs ALL Kinds of Minds the same year that Time Magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people. Her newest book, Temple Grandin’s Guide to Working with Farm Animals: Safe, Humane Livestock Handling Practices for the Small Farm, was published in 2017.  

Dr. Grandin says that her interest in cattle stemmed from early exposure. “Students get interested in things they get exposed to,” she points out (which is, of course, another argument in favor of getting children involved in agriculture at an early age!). Fast-forward to today: Half of the cattle in the United States are handled in facilities Dr. Grandin designed. 

Through her efforts in animal welfare and involvement in writing standards for the livestock industry, Dr. Grandin has done away with a lot of the “vague” language these standards often contain, and she’d like to eradicate the rest. “The thing that’s so important in standards—regardless of whether it’s a meat plant or whether it’s pasture-based dairy—you’ve got to have clear standards about what is compliant and what is not compliant,” she says. Vague terms like ‘prevent suffering’ or ‘handle them gently’ aren’t good enough—we need to define them. What does preventing suffering look like for the animal? What does handling livestock gently entail? These are the questions Dr. Grandin’s work answers.

A farmer holds a piglet in his arms.

Science, Dr. Grandin says, can guarantee a number of things for us. “Animals that are afraid of people are less productive. That is known.” This is why it’s not only the conscientious and right thing to treat animals humanely, it’s also advantageous for business and production. “There’s a whole lot of scientific research that shows that good stockmanship matters,” she emphasizes.

The good news? Dr. Grandin says that over the course of her involvement in agriculture, she’s seen a huge increase in the percentage of people who handle animals well. Her findings are resonating with farmers across the nation.

Although Dr. Grandin admits that we still have a long way to go before every cow, hog and chicken is living under ideal conditions—she also says that the young people getting involved in agriculture are going about it the right way. “There are a lot of young people that are kind of different and super, super good at raising animals,” she says.

Perhaps that’s due, in part, to Dr. Grandin’s groundbreaking work.

Listen to the full episode at the link above, on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play or wherever you get your podcasts, and don’t forget to subscribe!

Want more about animal care? Check out this interview with Organic Valley’s staff veterinarian, Dr. Guy Jodarski.

And read these great stories about some of the traditionalinnovative, and even quirky ways our farmers keep their animals happy and healthy!

Transcript: Rootstock Radio Interview with Temple Grandin

Air Date: November 27, 2017

Welcome to Rootstock Radio. Join us as host Theresa Marquez talks to leaders from the Good Food movement about food, farming, and our global future. Rootstock Radio—propagating a healthy planet. Now, here’s host Theresa Marquez.

THERESA MARQUEZ: Hello, and welcome to Rootstock Radio. I’m Theresa Marquez, and today I am so honored and delighted to be talking with Dr. Temple Grandin. It’s such a privilege. Temple is an American professor of animal science at Colorado State University. She’s an author of many, many books, and she’s a consultant to the livestock industry on behavior as well as a spokesperson for the topic of autism. Temple, thank you so much for being with us today.

TEMPLE GRANDIN: Well, it’s good to be here.

TM: Such an important topic to talk about—animal welfare. And so I’d like to dive into it. What made you get interested in this idea of animal welfare?

TG: Well, I first got interested in just working with beef cattle because I was exposed to cattle when I was a teenager. This brings up a really important thing: students get interested in things they get exposed to. And so I got to working with designing cattle-handling facilities out in the Arizona feed yards in the ’70s. And when I first started, I thought I could fix everything with engineering. Then I learned, well, you’ve gotta do the management. People are going to have to operate things right.

And where I saw the biggest change was when I worked with McDonald’s corporation on implementing their animal welfare guidelines. And a big buyer is in a really good position to get people to improve how they do things. And so it’s something I gradually just got into.

TM: Well, I think that’s very surprising, even to me, that you worked with McDonald’s and that they were really open to looking at the way animals are treated. How did you make that connection with McDonald’s?

TG: Well, there’s a case called McLibel that was back in the early ’90s. And if you look that up online you’ll see how that forced McDonald’s to look at the animal welfare issue. And I took McDonald’s executives in the late ’90s on their first trips to farms and slaughterhouses. And when things were working well they were fine about it. But then when something was wrong, I saw “undercover boss” moments, just like the show Undercover Boss: “Oh, yeah, there’s some things we have to fix.”

Well, one of the things was an emaciated, awful-looking dairy cow that went into their product. This would’ve been back in the late ’90s. And then I developed a very simple way to evaluate meat packing plants with a simple scoring system, like how many cattle were mooing and bellowing during handling? How many fell down during handling? How many had an electric prodder put on them? And then I could measure these things and then I could tell, am I getting better or am I getting worse? So the plant knew right up front what they had to do.

TM: You’re so famous for doing—at least in my world, I don’t know about our listeners—but I would like our listeners to know that Temple, when it comes to animal welfare, putting together rules and measurements on how we evaluate how farmers and plants are treating livestock has been in the forefront. Like, for example, someone like McDonald’s, they have many, many processors, don’t they?

TG: Yes, they basically, they were buying beef from about 45 different plants and pork from about 25 different places. And we went around to a whole lot of different places. And the thing I’m really proud of is, out of all the plants that they had, only three had to build something expensive. We were able to fix a lot of places with real simple changes like lighting, non-slip flooring, and having people move smaller groups of animals.

I have lots of information on this on my website, I’ve got videos now that show how beef plant working right works. It’s called Beef Plant Video Tour with Temple Grandin. But you have to have guidance that’s really clear, sort of like traffic rules for animal welfare. You can’t talk about vague “prevent suffering” or vague “handle them gently.” You’ve got to have something clear. If more than 1 percent of your animals fall down, you’re going to have a [unclear—fail on it?]. Something is really clear.

TM: So, Temple, you have so much compassion for these animals, and I think one of the fascinating rules that you discovered was that the way that animals walk into the plants—

TG: Well, I found, as far as the packing plant goes, they’re more afraid of the dark. I put a light on a chute, and when I put a light on the entrance of a chute that greatly reduced the electric prod score because they go in easier. If you have air blowing on their face they don’t like that. You’ve got paper towels waving, that will stop them.

And then I went to one place over in Ireland—that was really fun, they flew me in there in a big black helicopter, a real grand entrance. And the cattle would walk up the chute, and there were six holes in the side gate where they could see motion. Six pieces of duct tape. They’re very, very, very sensitive about what they see. And you change the things they see, they’ll walk right in. Sometimes it blows my mind that it works as well as it does.

TM: How did you… You said you worked, when you were a teenager, with livestock. So did you learn all these things about livestock in—

TG: Well, the first thing I did in the early ’70s was I went all around all the feed yards in Arizona helping them work cattle, and I noticed they’d stop at a reflection off a truck. They’d stop at a shadow, stop at a puddle, and they’d notice all these little visual distractions. And at the time, I didn’t know I was a visual thinker, so why was I noticing this but other people weren’t noticing it? Well, in the ’70s I thought everybody was a visual thinker like me. I thought, well that’s obvious, they’re stopping at that puddle. And I noticed that. It was the first thing I ever did. And it has to do with the fact that I am a visual thinker.

TM: So, Temple, you see things other people don’t see. Are there a lot of people who fit into that category of visual thinkers?

TG: There’s a lot of people that are visual thinkers. In one of my books, Thinking in Pictures, I discuss visual thinking. I have another book, The Autistic Brain, where I talk about it. I also talk about visual thinking in some of my books on livestock. I’ve got a new book out now, Temple Grandin’s Guide to Working With Farm Animals. And an animal is a sensory-based thinker. They’re not a word thinker. Their memories will be pictures, sounds; and things that cattle tend to get afraid of tend to be visual things or maybe a sound.


TM: You know, that is so fascinating that animals are sensory-based thinkers. We don’t even think about that very much. And I’m just wondering, when you discovered that, how were you able to communicate that to people about the way people think?

TG: Well, when I was in the ’70s I thought everybody thought in pictures. And then I wrote my book, Thinking in Pictures¸ and I thought everybody with autism thought in pictures. Now I’ve found out there’s kind of three different ways that people can think. Photorealistic visual thinking, that patterned, more mathematical, engineering, computer programmer type of thinking—think organic chemistry, that’s patterns; word thinkers; and then there’s some people that are auditory, everything they do is auditory. And I’ve written about that in my book The Autistic Brain and I’ve provided all the references that show that it is scientifically true. But it was interesting for me when I learned that not everybody was a visual thinker.

And when I first learned this—and it was a long time ago, like over 20 years ago—I asked a speech therapist one time to think about a church steeple, and I was shocked when she just gave me this vague, generalized image of a church steeple. I just see specific ones that come off as specific pictures of ones I’ve seen. I didn’t know that other people thought differently.

TM: I’m also curious that we have in the Midwest here CAFOs, which are a lot of cows on concrete. And I’ve looked at numbers of how long those cows last, and they don’t seem to last as long as other cows.

TG: You’re talking about dairy cattle here?

TM: Yeah, dairy cattle and even beef cattle who are raised in confinement.

TG: Well, there’s a real problem with concrete. I don’t believe in evaluating these animals with outcome-based indicators. We can evaluate them for lameness, and I like a four-point lameness scale: normal; walks and limps but keeps up with the herd; limps and is still mobile but does not keep up with the walking herd; and almost a downer. We can also measure swollen knee joints and leg joints. We can measure that.

One of my students, Wendy Fulwider, had a very nice four-point scale where you score this with normal, hair loss, swelling smaller than a baseball, swelling larger than a baseball on the worst leg. It’s important to measure these things, and then I can tell, am I getting better or am I getting worse? You can also measure how many dirty cows you’ve got. I like nice, simple, straightforward indicators that people can measure. And one of the things that Wendy Fulwider found in her research is that a dairy that worked really hard to manage their free stalls and manage their bedding had less swollen hocks—they were better on that.

Now, but I want to measure these outcome variables, and people are going to have to reduce the lameness levels and reduce the swollen hocks. And at one time 25 percent of the dairies had lame cows, and then Nigel Cook up in Wisconsin worked really, really hard with high-producing dairies and got it down to 13 percent—cut it in half by measuring it. The first thing you’ve got to do is you’ve got to measure it. You manage stuff that you measure. And for animal welfare I like nice, simple outcome-based measures for dairy cows, like lameness, swollen hocks, dirty animals. Those would be three top ones; also I want to look at udder condition.

TM: So, Temple, though, what about the fact that cows have four stomachs and need to eat more grass?

TG: Well, first of all, dairy cattle are not eating all the grain. It’s very important that we differentiate between beef cattle and dairy cattle.

TM: And how are you seeing them different?

TG: Well, dairy cattle, regardless of housing, are fed way more forages and a lot less grain. Now, there is some research that shows that dairy cows that have access to pasture tend to have less lameness. Now I’m writing an animal welfare guideline of what is “access to pasture”? I’ve got to have something clear if I’m going to be auditing suppliers. And they need to be out on pasture during the day, during the growing season. Then, what is “pasture”? There’s a point where you can put some animals out on a lot and they’ve chewed all the grass down and the pasture turned into feedlot. So my definition of a bare minimum pasture—I’m not saying this is good pasture—but bare minimum pasture is 75 percent of the ground must have vegetation with a root system. I’ve got to have something clear as to what a pasture is. When does a piece of ground go from pasture to non-pasture?

TM: Is this on your website,

TG: A lot of this stuff is on It’s also in my book Improving Animal Welfare: A Practical Approach. A lot of the stuff is there. I’ve got a lot of papers, academic papers too. I’ve got a new academic paper out on animal welfare indicators that I can assess at the meat packing plant, that came out in 2017.


TM: If you’re just joining us, listeners, you’re listening to Rootstock Radio, and I’m Theresa Marquez. And I’m here today with Dr. Temple Grandin, an American professor of animal science at Colorado State University and an absolutely well-known consultant to so many of the livestock, both beef and dairy, industry on animal behavior, and also an author and co-author of many, many books as a spokesperson for autism.

I’m just wondering, Temple, have you written a whole lot of standards on pasture-based agricultural—

TG: The thing that I’ve written the most standards on has been for the slaughter plants. I wrote standards for the North American Meat Institute, what was formerly AMI, American Meat Institute. Those standards are on—their website, And the thing that is so important in standards, regardless of whether it’s a meat plant or whether it’s pasture-based dairy, [we’ve] got to have clear standards about what is compliant and what is not compliant. And I want to get rid of all the vague terms like “handle them properly,” because if you have to take somebody off the approved supplier list it’s got to be very clear. It needs to be like traffic rules. The police measure speeding, they measure your alcohol level of your breath. Stop signs means stop. Traffic rules are clear. And if I’m running a supply chain I need to have really clear standards.

I was just looking through some standards the other dairy from Europe, and man, it was so complicated, people are going to have a hard time understanding it. Now we must try to figure out how to simplify it and still do the same thing. We need to have clear, simple standards that are like traffic rules for animal welfare. And if the cattle are supposed to be out on pasture they’d better be out on pasture for a certain length of time. And “growing season”—how do you define that? Maybe it’s from first frost ends the growing season until it stops having frost. You’ve got to have a clear definition about what “access to pasture” is.

TM: So, I’m wondering, Temple, you know, everything today—what’s the business proposition? Have you been able to show both the slaughterhouses and those people in the livestock industry why this is a good idea, to be treating animals well? Can you show that business proposition?

TG: Well, yes. Rough handling of animals causes bruises and can reduce weight gain. There’s a whole lot of scientific research that shows that good stockmanship matters, and it matters a lot. Animals that are afraid of people are less productive, have lower conception rates on artificial insemination, and they give less milk and they gain less weight. Stockmanship matters. There are probably 30 scientific papers that show really clearly that animals that are afraid of people are less productive animals. That is definitely known.

TM: For our listeners, once again, Dr. Grandin is a professor. And are you teaching graduate students, Temple?

TG: Now, I’ve got five graduate students right now, and we’re doing some research on different types of [unclear—captive bolts?], and we’re doing research right now on bruising and how that’s related to tall animals not fitting onto the trailers. We’re doing most of this research in the meat packing plants right now. I’ve got a bunch of graduate students working on that.

TM: What do you think are the most important improvements that we can make in the livestock industry today?

TG: Okay, what I’m seeing now—and the slaughter plant is what I’ve worked with the most—when I go to a slaughter plant or my students go to a slaughter plant and they see a welfare issue, it is something that has to be corrected at the farm. And one area that’s still bad is there’s too many dairy cows showing up at the plant that have been allowed to deteriorate to a very, very bad condition before they came to the plant. That is still a problem and that needs to be corrected.

TM: So are you able to put together standards for the farms, for the dairy farms in these operations?

TG: One of the things that’s a problem—I’ve worked on standards committees with lots of different places—and one of the problems is some of the worst producers get on the committee and they want to water down the standards to the point where everybody can pass. You need to be putting the standard where the top 25 percent can pass, and then give people time to reduce the levels of lameness, reduce the level of swollen knee joints and swollen hocks.

And there’s a number of standards out there being used on the farm that are way too lax. I looked at one assessment tool for swollen knee joints and legs and I thought it was ridiculous. It was a three-point scale. It was normal, hair loss, and then it was a big huge gigantic swelling, and there was no intermediate level of swelling. So that means something small, like something maybe the size of a baseball, would get put in there with hair loss. No, I would recommend using what Wendy Fulwider had in her Journal of Dairy Science article where you have normal, hair loss, swelling smaller than baseball worst leg, swelling larger than a baseball. But the way this scoring tool was set up, it would allow dairies with swelling the size of a baseball to pass. That’s just ridiculous. I’m not going to say whose standards this is on, but I was just appalled when I saw that scoring tool. It was ridiculous.

TM: So, what I’m hearing from you is you believe strongly that dairies should have rules and regulations and measurements that they can score?

TG: The thing is, there’s a big difference between the well-managed dairies and the badly managed dairies. The percentage of dairies, the percentage of beef operations, the percentage of pig operations that have improved, that’s gotten bigger. I’ve been around for 40 years and the percentage of people that handle animals well, that has greatly increased—greatly, greatly increased across all the industry, all the species. But there’s still a bottom 10 percent of bottom feeders. That has not changed over the years. The people that are good—that has expanded greatly over the last 15 years.


TM: Well, that’s very encouraging, I think. I mean, you know, we still are looking at these bottom 10 percent. On the farm, though, are we getting to enough of these large dairies, or these dairies who are not doing as good a job?

TG: Well, wait a minute—don’t blame large dairies. I want to get totally away from the size. Size has nothing to do with it. It’s management.

TM: Good point.

TG: And you can have well-managed large, well-managed little, badly managed large, or badly managed little. It gets down to management, and management has got to care. The other thing is you cannot understaff and overwork your stock people to where they’re so tired they don’t care about what they do. You can have dairies with beautiful looking legs, clean cows, that are big or small. It gets down to management. And yes, there are some things with facility design, but I’d rather not tell you how to build your dairy stalls. Let’s measure on the outcome. If there’s something wrong with their housing, you’re going to have a lot of lame cows and you’re going to have a lot of swollen leg joints.

TM: Well, you know, Temple, as we kind of wind down on our interview here, I really would love to talk with you a little bit more about some of these wonderful books that you’ve both written and co-written.

TG: Well, if you’re really interested in animal welfare, I’ve got my book Improving Animal Welfare: A Practical Approach, and you can probably pick that one up on Amazon really easily. I’ve got my books on Animals in Translation, Animals Make Us Human—basic animal behavior. I’ve got my brand new book, Temple Grandin’s Guide to Working With Farm Animals, and it’s aimed at smaller producers, and lots of nice pictures. It’s also a really great book for the 4H and FFA students. And then of course I’ve got my autism books, things like Thinking in Pictures, The Way I See It. I’ve got lots of different books. And I have, which has got lots of livestock information on it.

TM: Could I ask you, I know that you mostly work with livestock. Do you work with poultry at all?

TG: Yes, I have. In fact, a number of years ago I worked on a scoring system for poultry. I introduced the scoring system of broken wings scoring as a measure of handling. If they’re really rough when they catch the chickens, you’re going to have a lot of broken wings. I also implemented broken cage scoring. So if you have broken compartments, chickens would get out on the highway, so you’d also score the transport modules for broken compartments. See, this is stuff that I can easily score. Another score you can use for the slaughterhouse is uncut red birds.

TM: Uncut red birds?

TG: After you de-feather it, it’s going to be bright red because it didn’t bleed. And if it’s a cut red bird, that’s not a welfare issue, but if it’s an un­-cut red bird, that probably got scalded alive. Now when we first started working on that, I found a whole bunch of those. People have been really cleaning it up now. But I’ve got to have nice, simple, straightforward metrics I can use.

TM: Well, I was going to ask about, what do you think about the amount of square footage per bird that’s regulated? Do you think it’s enough?

TG: Well, I can tell you how I’d score them, because some people would lie to me about how many chickens they put in a house. I simply walk into the building, market-ready broilers, and I’d better be able to walk through them and have them form a circle three foot or more around me, and have room for them to move away from me. And then the birds better be able to walk.

And the broiler industry has actually improved some of this. The birds are walking better now, even though they’re heavier, than they did ten years ago. And some of the problems I wrote about roosters behaving badly, that I wrote about in Animals in Translation, [unclear—it wasn’t?] a breeder colony. I think they’ve corrected a lot of these problems, and they did it with genetics.

TM: What about access to outdoors? Do you think that’s necessary?

TG: Well, it’s not going to be at the top of my list. The first thing you’ve got to do in animal welfare is I’ve got to clean up just the…someone has a muck hole for a chicken house. They let the litter get all mucky and the birds dirty. I’ve got to deal with those issues first. If I’m running a supply chain, the first thing I’ve got to do is make sure there isn’t something going on that would make a horrendous YouTube video. That’s the first step I’ve got to do.

And then I want to make sure there’s not a lot of lame animals or dirty animals, or animals with sores or lesions and swollen joints. I’m going to push for that stuff first. And then we get into the issue about, does the animal have a good life? And going out on pasture, that’s one of the things that probably gives the cow a better life. And it does reduce lameness. Now it’s probably not too practical when there’s two foot of snow on the ground.

TM: Right!

TG: We’ve got to be practical about things. The other thing that I’ve worked with people on is whatever your label says, you better be actually doing it. If you say your cattle are grass fed, they’d better be grass fed. It’s really important to have integrity that what you say you’re doing, you’re actually doing it.

TM: Temple, I just love the practical approach that you have, just so much—all of the work that you’re doing. And for some of our listeners, besides the books there’s a Ted Talk?

TG: Yep, on the All Kind of Minds. In my Ted Talk I talk about the different kinds of minds. In my book The Autistic Brain I talk about the photorealistic visual thinkers, I talk about the pattern math thinkers, and the word thinkers, and the scientific research that shows those kinds of thinkers actually do exist. And then my original autobiography, Thinking in Pictures, I explain visual thinking. So I’ve got a lot of stuff out there, and my brand new book is Temple Grandin’s Guide to Working With Farm Animals.

TM: So, Temple, you know, you have been a pioneer, a leader, and a change agent in the livestock industry, especially in the slaughterhouses, but in so many ways. And you’ve also tackled the public perception of autism.

TG: Well, you know, Einstein probably had autism. He had no speech until age three. I recently read a biography on Thomas Edison, and he was described as an adult hyperactive high school dropout. Steve Jobs was a weird loner who brought snakes to his elementary school. I’ve worked with a lot of skilled welders and millwrights on the projects that I’ve built for the large meat packing plants, and a lot of these guys were dyslexic or ADHD, probably mildly autistic. The “Right Stuff” rode the rockets, but the misfits and the guys that were different built the stuff. And I’m saying it absolutely seriously: there would have been no moon program without the kids that were kind of the misfits and the ones that didn’t fit in.

TM: Do you think that—you know, we’ve read statistics that autism is increasing—do you think that that’s probably not true? That there were always people who were just really different?

TG: Oh, there have always been people. I think a lot of it is increased detection. Let’s look at some of the things that could contribute to the increase. We are not teaching social skills in the same structured way I was taught in the ’50s—table manners, please and thank you, greeting people. Also, kids are not learning how to work. My generation had paper routes when they were 11. I had a sewing job when I was 13; I was cleaning horse stalls at 15. Kids are not learning how to work. And the other bad thing the schools have done is taking out all the hands-on art classes, skilled trades classes, cooking, sewing, things that can introduce kids to trades at an early age. So I think those three things together have contributed to increased detection—especially with the kids where there’s no speech delay, they’re just kind of socially awkward kids.

TM: Such good points, Temple, and I’m just so grateful. You’re an inspiration to all of the things that you’ve been doing, from livestock to really speaking out and talking about how this diversity is so critical, these visual thinkers.

TG: And some of these kids, where I’m seeing a lot of young people in ag heading into some of the things like the pasture-raised dairy cattle, that’s where I’m seeing younger people getting into these specialty markets. And one thing I’m concerned about is the price of land—you know, the barrier of entry of getting into the field. But there’s a lot of young people that are kind of different and are super, super good at raising animals.

TM: So, listeners, we have been talking to Dr. Temple Grandin, and her website,, is fascinating and filled with tons of information. And it’s been just a real joy to be talking with you today, Temple, and thank you so much.

TG: Thank you so much for having me.

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