Farmers will find it much easier to handle livestock if they understand an animal’s point of view.

That’s what national animal welfare expert Temple Grandin told close to 400 attendees at the Virginia Forage and Grassland Council’s winter beef conference.

When Grandin first started working with beef cattle in the 1970s, she determined the only way she could find out how cows perceive the world was to get inside the chutes in cattle-handling facilities. "I’m an extreme visual thinker because of my autism, so I got down in the chutes to see what was going on."

What she found is that animals are easily distracted and, therefore, easily scared.

"Here’s the basis of good animal care: Calm animals are easier to handle than excited, fearful animals," Grandin told livestock producers at the conference. "I don’t care what kind of animal you work with."

Grandin, who is a professor of animal science at Colorado State University and designs livestock handling facilities, said allowing animals to move voluntarily is much better than forcing them to move.

"Lead them, and let them follow," she said. "Out West we drive cattle, but here on the East Coast we do lots of pasture rotation, so you need to lead the cattle."

Additionally, Grandin said, livestock handlers should be more aware of what’s in the environment on a farm. A plastic lid in the middle of a road may not bother them, but an animal will balk when it sees an unfamiliar object.

"Animal vision is tuned in to see little distractions," Grandin said. Things like shadows, reflections, moving objects and air blowing on them are all reasons for cattle to try to back out of a chute. "If those are there, they won’t go in."

In her 35-year career designing handling facilities for ranches, farms and meat processing facilities, she said, she learned that well-engineered facilities provide the tools for calm, low-stress handling of livestock but they don’t replace good animal management.

"Good cattle handling involves no screaming or waving of the arms, just a calm voice."