Temple Grandin, the world’s best-known animal behaviour specialist, says farmers ought to walk with their cattle and pigs to make them used to inter-acting with people.
That would help keep them calm, including when they are shipped to market and being herded to slaughter.
She told a recent meeting of meat packer that attention to detail is critical; the smallest thing can spook an animal.
Something as simple as the contrast of a white plastic cup dropped on a brown floor, a paper towel hanging from a dispenser or a hose left in their sightline can cause an animal to balk.
If they balk in a chute, there's a backup of all the other cattle and that can trigger a downward spiral as staff try to get them moving again, sometimes shouting, prodding and banging things.
Lighting, airflow and floor maintenance are also critical. Moving a light by 12 inches to eliminate a shadow, hanging a curtain or moving a fan so air is not blowing in the animals’ faces can dramatically lower animal balking, which reduces the need for employees to use prods or paddles. Even if a fan is turned off, if natural wind starts turning the blades slowly in the animals’ sightline, they can startle.
Changing the color of employees’ hats and clothing to reduce the contrast with the color of the chute can also help keep animals calmer.
One issue for packing plant employees is to understand the difference between tapping and beating an animal with a plastic paddle. Grandin said a good training example is tapping a corrugated cardboard box with a plastic paddle. If the box starts to crush, then tapping has become beating.
To pass a NAMI animal care audit, a facility must earn a passing score five measures:
Stunning the animal with one shot
Rendering the animal insensible
Proper use of electric prods
Percentage of animals falling own
Level of animal vocalization
Part of this equation is limiting distractions for the animal, including: light reflecting on water or metal, air blowing, moving people or equipment, a chute entrance that is too dark or a visual cliff on a conveyer. Grandin also warned that slick floors are a big problem, in part because floors wear out slowly.
“Get those (electric) prods out of their (employees’) hands,” she said, noting that lightly touching an animal with a vibrating wand can reduce electric prod use by 70 percent.
“We have to look at everything we do and ask, ‘How would this play on YouTube?'” she said.
She said cattle that have never been around people on foot will be difficult to handle at the packing plant. There are many that have only been herded by handlers on horseback or by dogs.
Hog farmers, Grandin said, “have got to walk their pens,” for the same reason. Hogs that are used to seeing humans on foot will be much calmer when it comes to being herded by employees at the plant.