New technology and automation are not replacements for good farm management, a well-known expert on animal behaviour told a crowd at UPEI on Tuesday.
Dr. Temple Grandin, the world-renowned professor of animal science at Colorado State University, made one of several guest presentations to the International Society for Applied Ethology (ISAE) 2018 Congress, which is meeting in Charlottetown this week.
During a question-and-answer session, Grandin was asked whether new forms of technology, such as automated feeding, created a risk of losing direct contact with animals.
Grandin said she previously thought she could “fix everything with magic equipment”.
“(I realized) no, I can only fix half of the problems with equipment; the other half is management. That farmer needs to be spending his time walking amongst his cows, keeping their pens clean…. Part of management is maintaining that (new technology),” she said. “I’ve designed a couple of things, and if you have people that aren’t trained, it can be a real mess.”
Grandin, who is also well-known as an autism spokesperson, was the subject of the Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning 2010 film named after her. She was responsible for increasing the humane treatment of livestock, including designing adapted curved corrals in slaughter plants to reduce stress and injury in animals.
During her presentation, Grandin covered how to apply academic research on animal behaviour to commercial farms and slaughter plants while also sharing some other tips from her lengthy career.
Dr. Michael Cockram, chairman of the local organizing committee for the conference, said Grandin was one of the best examples of someone who has applied scientific research in the “real world”.
“That is what she does, and she does it very well,” said Cockram, who is also chairman in animal welfare and professor in the department of health management at the Atlantic Veterinary College at UPEI. “I was delighted that she could come.”
The ISAE is a leading scientific society for the study of the behaviour and welfare of confined or domesticated animals and managed wild animals. In the last 50-plus years, its members have provided scientific expertise to help make recommendations on legislation, codes of practice and guidelines to improve animal welfare.
This is the second time the conference has been held in Canada, with about 280 experts from 27 different countries taking part in the event, which runs until Friday.
“It’s not going to come back here for a long, long time. This is such a huge thing in my field of study that for it to come here is amazing,” said Cockram. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing, so it’s flattering and so enjoyable to have it (here).”
Grandin advised those at the conference to not over-complicate things when taking what they’ve learned into the field and to “keep it simple”.
She also warned against the slippery slope of bad practices “becoming normal”.
To drive home the point, she noted that research shows about a quarter of North American dairy cattle are lame and that most managers will underestimate lameness by about 50 per cent.
“That’s something that (has to be) fixed at the farm,” said Grandin. “People get used to seeing mild lameness and they get to where they just don’t see it anymore. It’s bad becoming normal.”
More information on the conference can be found at http://isae2018.com.