A Caring Hand Makes For Quality Meat

CANADA - “You need both good facilities and good management,“ says Colorado State University animal science professor Dr. Temple Grandin.
calendar icon 14 April 2007
clock icon 7 minute read

Dr. Grandin, an internationally recognized designer of livestock handling facilities, animal behavior expert and author, is scheduled to discuss animal husbandry and welfare issues as part of a wine and cheese fund raising event this coming Friday in Winnipeg.

Small Improvements Mean Big Accomplishments

“One thing I'd like to talk about is simple changes in facilities,” she says. “People are realizing they’ve got to have good facilities. You need to have at least an adequate level of facilities. If you have state of the art facilities it's going to make handling easier.”

“I can’t emphasize enough the importance of non slip flooring,” she says. “If animals are wild you can put solid sides on facilities. If they see people or a shiny reflection up ahead, that’s going to make them balk. You need to find these little things that the animals are afraid of, like a reflection or it’s too dark or they can see the bumper of a truck, and fix it so they don’t see these things.”

Dr. Grandin stresses, “You need both the good facilities and the management. Both are really important.”

“We’ve got to get people to calm down, handle cattle quietly, handle animals.” She observes, “Often times people think, well I can just buy the new facility and it’s automatic management. It is not. You also need to have good stockmanship.”

Reduce Stress-Reduce Fear

Dr. Grandin explains, “If animals fear people they’re going to be less productive animals. People working with cattle need to understand the flight zone and point of balance principles.”

“Another principle is calm animals are much easier to handle. Animals that are scared and excited are going to be harder to handle. You’re going to be more likely to get bruised meat. It bruises and they’re also more dangerous to handle. The whole trick is keep the animal calm.”

She notes calm handling is especially important when dealing with hogs. “Good handling of hogs is vital to have good quality meat,” she says.

“The last five minutes in the stunning chute is very critical. You can get pale soft meat if the pigs get excited at that time. It’s also very important for producers to get animals used to being handled by people so that, when they get to the plant, they will drive rather than just piling up and squealing.”

Fund Raiser Slated for April 20

Dr. Grandin is scheduled to address a wine and cheese fund raiser this coming Friday (April 20, 2007) at the Victoria Inn in Winnipeg. Proceeds from the event, which is being hosted by the Manitoba Farm Animal Council (MFAC) and the University of Manitoba’s National Centre for Livestock and the Environment (NCLE), will be used for special projects conducted by the two organizations.

NCLE Focuses on Sustainable Agricultural Development

“The national centre is all about sustainable agriculture,” says Dr. Karin Wittenberg, associate dean research with the University of Manitoba's Faculty of Agricultural and Food Science.

“It includes the effects on the environment. It includes our need for foods that are safe and healthy. It includes the image of agriculture in terms of its neighbours and consumers. And it includes animal health and welfare.”

“When we address these things we need to take a multi-pronged approach. This means that people who are interested in animal behavior are working side by side with those that have an interest in food safety and environmental issues as well as economics and production costs.”

“We know from recent announcements around even things like gestation crates that the general public has an interest in good animal welfare practices,” she says. “We also know that we need to be providing guidance and advice on the basis of sound science and the centre is really ideally suited to facilitate the research that is required to identify good animal practices that allow normal behavior and a healthy lifestyle for the animal.”

Animal Welfare Key to Sustainable Agriculture

Dr. Wittenberg notes, “In any effort to develop a more sustainable livestock production system we always have to think about animal welfare. One exciting project that Nora Lewis from the Department of Animal Science has spearheaded is to look at sow housing, both conventional and alternative sow housing, and to look at the long term impacts of housing design and management on the welfare of animals over the course of their lifetime. The national centre, because of its different facility types, is an ideal environment for this kind of work.”

Manitoba farm Animal Council Executive Director Shanyn Silinski notes this is the first time the NCLE Centre and MFAC have worked together on a joint fund raising project. “We’re trying to raise awareness so that people will understand the work that Temple has done and also let them know about the work that the farm animal council and the education centre at Glenlea are going to be doing – and how we can all work together as an industry so that we do have that united voice.”

MFAC to Focus on Public Education

“I see MFAC as being the public voice for research, for the individual commodities, educating the public about the centre and what will be offered there,” says MFAC Chairman Wendy Friesen. “That there is an openness of communication between the farming and non-farming communities where non-farmers can come right out and see what it is that we’re doing and maybe put together the thought of food production and food consumption.”

Friesen foresees a strong relationship between the Manitoba Farm Animal Council and the National Centre for Livestock and the Environment.

“Research is being done currently in the hog sector. For one, manure management. With the current pause that’s on the hog industry we have phosphorous issues, water quality issues. Part of it is just a way of proving to the non-farming public that we are good stewards of the land and that farming can coincide and live side by side with an urban population.”

She suggests, “Producers need the research [in order] to continue meeting new requirements that will be coming down, and who better to go to than the university where the studies can be done in controlled environments. They’re impartial. They have every reason to be complete in their studies and provide us with good ways to continue improvements in our farm operation.”

Information Age Speeds Delivery of New Technologies

Silinski suggests the information age has helped.

“Informed people make informed choices, so the more information we have the better the choices we’re going to make. And that’s better for business, better for families, better for communities.”

“We have a very small world now with the emergence of the internet,” she says. “We don’t have to wait for letters to come across on cart or train, so we’re very aware of things going on around the world which makes us more aware of the scrutiny that can be focused on us here at home.”

“We want to make sure that the consumers know that their food source has been raised humanely and that it’s safe. We want producers to know that we appreciate the good job they’re doing and they want to let us know that they want to do a better job and they want the tools to do that.”

Animal Welfare Continues to Improve

Dr. Grandin observes, animal welfare has improved a lot. She suggests much of that improvement has been driven by the large restaurant companies, supermarkets and other buyers of meat.

“The auditing programs that some of the customers have been doing have brought about some tremendous big improvements. People are recognizing the importance of things like low-stress handling of cattle and pigs because you get better meat quality, less bruises and with cattle great safety advantages.”

The wine and cheese fund raiser is slated for Friday, April 20 at the Victoria Inn in Winnipeg. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased through either of the sponsors or at the door.

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