Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals

by Dr. Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson

Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt, New York, NY, 2009
ISBN 978-0-15101489-7

(In United Kingdom, book title is "Making Animals Happy" and ISBN is: 978-0-7475-9714-8)

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An Excerpt from the Afterward: Why Do I Still Work for the Industry?

The Use of Cattle and Other Animals in Food as Part of Sustainable Ethical Agriculture

I often get asked, “Why do you still work for the meat industry instead of being an activist against it?” A major factor that convinced me that I should continue to eat meat is that cattle and pigs during the 1970s, when I started my career, had good living conditions. The sows lived in pens and there were no sow stalls where the sow lived for most of her life where she could not turn around.

Handling and transport were atrocious in the 1970s but where the animals lived was decent. The beef cows were all out on pasture at family ranches, and the giant 20,000 to 60,000 head feedlots were dry and equipped with shades. During the first eleven years of my career in Arizona, I almost never saw disgusting, muddy feedlots because Arizona was super-hot with 100 degree temperatures and only six to eight inches of rainfall per year. All feedlots in Arizona had shades and the cattle grew really well in the dry climate. In my early years when I was starting my career, the beef and dairy cattle I worked with had nice places to live. I remember one dairy that had superb treatment of the animals by a manager who loved cows. When Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, visited the feedlot where his steer lived, the muddy lot made a very bad impression on him.

Even in the 1970s there were a few people who were good managers and rough, abusive handling of cattle was not allowed. There were a few feedlots that had excellent handling and the local Swift plant where I started my career usually had good handling. From the very beginning of my career I saw that cattle could be raised right and given a good life and a painless death.

If my animal agriculture career had started with either egg-laying chickens or gross, muddy feedlots, my career might have taken a different direction. Chickens crammed in cages where they must sleep on top of each other would have turned me off. There are many people who became animal rights activists because one of their early animal experiences was absolutely awful. During the first five years of my career, I witnessed cattle handling that was shockingly bad, but a few progressive managers and stockpeople showed me that raising and handling cattle could be done with respect and kindness. One of those kind stockpeople was Allen, who worked vaccinating cattle for the big feedlots. He taught me how to operate the cattle squeeze chute very gently. He never got angry at the cattle; he just stayed calm. Then there was the Porters’ beautiful Singing Valley Ranch. Penny and Bill Porter were the most wonderful, kind people and they were always gentle with their cattle. The Herefords they raised on their ranch were beautiful. These cattle had a wonderful life. This motivated me to work on improving the industry instead of working to convince people to stop eating meat. Knowing good, kind people who raised cattle had a huge influence on me. I knew the industry had its problems and it needed to be reformed, and these people made me believe it could be. At first I thought engineering could make all the improvements happen, but later in my career I learned that good engineering and design must be coupled with good management.

Do the Animals Know They Are Going to Die?

Often I get asked, “Do cattle know they are going to die?” While I was still in graduate school I had to answer this question. To find the answer I watched cattle go through the veterinary chute at a feedlot and then on the same day I watched them walk up the chute at the Swift plant. To my amazement, they behaved the same way in both places. If they knew that they were going to die, they should have acted wilder with more rearing and kicking at the Swift plant. At the plant, the handling was better and they were often calmer there.

Over the years I have done lots of thinking and have come to the conclusion that our relationship with the animals we use for food must be symbiotic. Symbiosis is a mutually beneficial relationship between two different living things. We provide the farm animals with food and housing and in return, most of the offspring from the breeding cows on the ranches are used for food. I vividly remember the day after I had installed the first center-track conveyor restrainer in a plant in Nebraska, when I stood on an overhead catwalk, overlooking vast herds of cattle in the stockyard below me. All these animals were going to their death in a system that I had designed. I started to cry and then a flash of insight came into my mind. None of the cattle that were at this slaughter plant would have been born if people had not bred and raised them. They would never have lived at all. People forget that nature can be very harsh, and death in the wild is often more painful and stressful than death in a modern plant. Out on a western ranch I saw a calf that had its hide ripped completely off on one side by coyotes. It was still alive and the rancher had to shoot it to put it out of its misery. If I had a choice, going to a well-run modern slaughter plant would be preferable to being ripped apart alive. I have lived in Colorado since 1990, and massive snowstorms have killed thousands of deer, elk, and cattle. Many animals died of starvation. Some ranchers could not get to their animals through twenty-foot snowdrifts, but the National Guard dropped hay to the cattle and the deer had to fend for themselves. Ranchers worked hard to save their animals. The natural environment can be a very tough world. Grazing animals such as cattle, sheep, and goats are a vital part of both sustainable and organic agriculture. Manure is used to fertilize the soil instead of chemicals. Grazing animals can also be used to improve pasture and help prevent land from turning into barren desert. Grazing is most beneficial in areas of the world with low rainfall. Allan Savory at the Center for Holistic Management explains that grazing has to mimic the behavioral patterns of herds of wildebeests or bison. The animals are stocked very tightly on a small piece of ground, then they move on. They mow the grass evenly, which helps plant diversity, and their manure fertilizes. Grazing done wrong will wreck pastures, but grazing done by herds of bison that constantly moved is what formed the Great Plains in the middle of America.

I am very concerned that programs around the world to convert grain into fuel will increase the intensification of animal agriculture. In both the United States and South America, prime pasture land is being converted to crops. In some areas, cattle are being moved off pastures and into feedlots. There is a lot of land where raising crops will increase soil erosion and damage the environment. Grazing animals is the best use for this land, and they help keep the land healthy.

Beef Slaughter Plant Tour

I have taken over a hundred nonindustry people through well run beef plants that have restrainers and curved chute systems I have designed. Before they enter the plant, I let them watch trucks unload and cattle walk up the chute for about twenty minutes. They all expect the cattle to act crazy when they come off the trucks and they are amazed when the cattle stay calm. They just cannot believe that most cattle walk quietly into the plant without having to be prodded. I never rush this part of the tour because people cannot believe how calm the cattle can be until they see it. Of course this works only when all the distractions that scare cattle, such as shiny reflections or a hose on the floor, are removed from the system. After my visitors have watched a hundred cattle walk into the plant with only two animals out of the hundred making a sound, they start to get curious about what goes on behind the wall. My guests’ SEEKING system is fully turned on, and then I let them walk through a door beside the cattle chute and watch the animals being shot with a captive bolt. The animals are instantly killed by a device that looks like a gigantic stainless-steel nail gun. The most common reaction is, “Oh, this is not as bad as I thought it would be.”

Tours done wrong are disasters. I remember one lady who freaked out and almost fainted because she got a “bloody room tour.” We were walking along the side of the building and had not even seen any cattle yet. Our tour guide suddenly opened a door and all she could see was blood all over everywhere, and the lady almost puked. At that point I took over the tour and took the lady to an overhead catwalk, which was over the cattle pens. From this vantage point, she could see the cattle walking into the building and all the pens of cattle. I told her that I wanted her to watch the cattle walk out of the pens and up the chute. The plant had one of my really nice curved systems and the cattle walked calmly. The handlers were calm and there was no yelling or whip cracking. We stood and watched for about fifteen minutes and she said, “I can’t believe that they just walk quietly.” Then I told her that it is like getting back on a horse and she should go back and open the door where she got so freaked out before. She walked down off the catwalk, opened the door, and said, “Not so bad now.”

I often get asked, “How can you care about animals when you design slaughter plants?” Many people today are totally insulated from death, but every living thing eventually dies; this is the cycle of life. Since people are responsible for breeding and raising farm animals, they must also take the responsibility to give the animals living conditions that provide a decent life and a painless death. During the animal’s life, both its physical needs and its emotional needs should be satisfied. Intensive farming systems need to be improved because the quality of the animals’ lives is poor in some of them.

The more I observe and learn about how dogs are kept today, I am more convinced that many cattle have better lives than some of the pampered pets. Too many dogs are alone all day with no human or dog companions. Recently I walked down a residential street in a neighborhood close to my home, and I was appalled to hear three different dogs barking or whining in three different houses. Separation anxiety is a major problem for many dogs. One of the worst cases of separation anxiety was a dog who broke off its teeth trying to escape from a yard where he was alone all day. Just as this book was going to press, I visited Uruguay in South America. Pet dogs with collars were running around town with no leashes. Nobody was concerned about dog bites because the dogs were all well socialized. They were like the dog in Ted Kerasote’s book, Merle’s Door.

Some people think death is the most terrible thing that can happen to an animal. Dogs that run loose are often killed by cars, but their social life is probably better. Dogs that live a more confined existence are less likely to get killed, but their quality of life may be poorer unless their owners spend a lot of time playing and interacting with them. I think the most important thing for an animal is the quality of its life. A good life requires three things: health, freedom from pain and negative emotions, and lots of activities to turn on SEEKING and PLAY.

Challenging the Idea of Animal Emotions

Some people may not want to believe that animals really do have emotions. I think their own emotions are getting in the way of logic. When I read all the scientific evidence about electrical stimulation of subcortical brain systems, the only logical conclusion was that the basic emotion systems are similar in humans and all other mammals. I used cerebral, logical thinking to help reform slaughterhouses, and I used the same logical thought processes to fully accept the existence of emotions in animals.

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