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  • Writer's pictureMeili Mattern

A Source of Inspiration - Temple Grandin

There are several people who, while I do not know them personally, have truly inspired me and my family on our journey into farming. One of those people is Temple Grandin. Some of you may have heard of her a few years ago, as she was the subject of a semi-biographical movie starring Claire Danes called Temple. The film follows Ms. Grandin’s early life as an often misunderstood autistic child. But, rather than being held back by her differences, she learns to use her autism as a means of understanding the world around her in a way that others cannot comprehend.

Certainly, Ms. Grandin is a woman who wears many hats; she has a doctorate from the University of Illinois, is a professor at Colorado State University, has authored books, is an autism activist, and a sought after public speaker. Throughout her life Ms. Grandin has been awarded numerous honorary degrees, the Double Helix Medal, inductions into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame, among other awards. These are particularly incredible accomplishments at any time, but specifically for someone who grew up during the 50’s and 60’s when autism was not widely recognized. Children with developmental problems were often institutionalized, as was suggested by some of Ms. Grandin’s childhood doctors.

Ms. Grandin has said that she views the world around her in pictures, rather than in words or language. This particular way of relating to her environment is what gave her the ability to analyze why animals react to their surroundings the way they do. Specifically, Ms. Grandin discovered what elements were causing cows and pigs stress at the housing and slaughter facilities. Early in her career she began designing different types of chutes and restraints that were animal friendly. Many, though sadly not all, commercial slaughter facilities have implemented her infrastructure suggestions. Amazingly, her work has earned the respect of the ranchers, the processors, and animal rights activists. Relaxed animals gain more weight, have better meat quality, and do not have to endure terror in their final moments.

While much of Ms. Grandin’s work has been geared to commercial agriculture, she is also a proponent of small farms and has spoken about the importance of preserving the genetic diversity of all farm animals through husbandry of heritage breeds. She is the author of many books, including one of my favorites, which is Temple Grandin’s Guide to Working with Farm Animals. It’s a great reference for anyone working with farm animals, as it has lots of charts and photographs which help you understand the way your animals perceive your actions. Very insightful!

This is really just a jumping off point for learning about the many contributions of Ms. Grandin. I’ve touched on the highlights of her career with animals, but she is also a proponent of autism awareness and a supporter of science education. I hope you will check out her Ted Talks, YouTube interviews, and books!

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