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Monday, August 15, 2005

Woman able to see life as animals do

Nebraska News, August 15, 2005

KEARNEY, Neb. (AP) -- Temple Grandin crawls into the minds of animals to gain an understanding unattainable from simple observation.

It's an understanding that comes from thinking like animals. "I don't think in language," she said. "As an autistic person, I think in pictures."

The condition that could have been a crippling disability instead gave her an incomparable ability to understand animals and translate that information to livestock handlers.

Her most recent best-selling book is "Animals in Translation." Grandin, who spoke at the fifth annual Nebraska Grazing Conference in Kearney, has published millions of words in her books and articles. She has spoken millions more in her Colorado State University classrooms, at seminars and as a livestock systems consultant.

Yet Grandin said she doesn't get her own answers in words. Like animals, she collects information in pictures generated by the words.

Autistics and animals see the world through their senses, which means they can be overwhelmed by details and emotions, particularly fear. They also can have savant-like skills, Grandin said, such as birds that learn a migration route after having flown it once.

Grandin's translation skills have made her one of the world's foremost experts on livestock handling systems that use curving designs and focus on details that have cattle's sensibilities in mind.

"The people are the first thing you've got to fix," she said. "Some just think yelling and screaming is the way to handle cattle. The first thing you have to do is get people to calm down."

Instead of trying to push reluctant cattle through a gate or into a chute, handlers need to figure out what's stopping the animals. "Animals tend to notice little things that shouldn't be there," Grandin said.

Details -- a coat on a fence, chains hanging from a corral, loose things flapping in the wind, a strange shadow on a sunny day -- produce cattle stress. She said studies show that stressed cattle have lower rates of gain.

Handlers also need to know that cattle and horses are only partially colorblind. Grandin said they can see yellow-green and bluish-purple. They can see blue sky and green grass.

Grandin said the best way to get cattle to accept differences, including things as simple as a mud puddle at the gate opening, is to allow time for the lead animal to investigate.

"The old saying that slower is faster is true," Grandin said.

Farm Animal Figurines


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