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Animals in Translation

a book by Temple Grandin

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Great Book on Animal Behavior

  • Apr 2, 2009
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This is a really interesting book by the woman who has designed half the animal slaughter facilities in the U.S. 

Temple Grandin is autistic and thinks in pictures, which she says is how animals think, so it helps her design more-humane slaughterhouses.
Lots of surprising stuff here. 

Cows have a blind spot in back, otherwise they can practically see everything behind them. They also have a blind spot in the front, because their eyes are so widely separated.  

Slaughterhouses all used to use cattle prods to get cattle to do things like walk down a shiny ramp into a pool to remove bugs. Grandin, thinking like a cow, discovered all sorts of things that frighten cows and prevent them from walking voluntarily, such as shiny metal, shadows, or bright yellow objects (such as someone's rain coat left lying around). When prods are used, it results in bruised meat that must be cut out. So Grandin isn't just helping animals lead more humane lives, she's helping the meat industry save money. 

Compared to the 50's and 60's, today's regulators tend to be college graduates who have never set foot in a slaughterhouse, and who demand 100 percent compliance. Yet slaughterhouses can't be perfect any more than humans can be. As a result, slaughterhouses get shut down for infractions and the inspectors get paid off to go away. When regulators demand less than perfect results -say 95 percent of perfection- they get better results.

When breeders breed for a single trait, they develop weird creatures, like roosters who are rapists/killers. One day, Grandin saw a chicken all cut up on the barnyard floor. The fowl had been overbred for strength, which, strangely-enough, resulted in roosters who no longer did their ritual mating dance. And when chickens didn't see the dance, they wouldn't do the customary pre-mating crouch, and were killed. Half the roosters at this particular farm were killers. And yet the breeder thought everything was normal. 

Another observation: Pigs are very sociable. At a pig auction, some pigs were mysteriously disappearing. It turned out that a worker was taking one or two and putting them in a vacant pen. Finally, someone noticed the pigs acting oddly. Normally pigs keep very close to one another. (When piglets get stressed, farmers call it "squealin' super glue.") But pigs don't cozy up with pigs they don't know. So the anti-social pigs were obviously the stolen ones.  

Despite Grandin's concern about animals, she is not a vegetarian. She points out, we humans are animals too and have our needs. She says she must eat meat or get light-headed. I couldn't help wondering if by taking meat out of her diet, she substituted a lot of low-fiber, high-sugar foods. In any event, I applaud her for the work she's done to make animals' lives better.

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July 20, 2009
Wow! This is such an interesting topic and thinking about the treatment of these animals and how they are raised/killed makes me want to consider becoming a vegetarian. I can't imagine it would be easy to analyze animal treatment and behavior and then have a cheeseburger, however it sounds like Grandin does have a unique perspective. Are you vegan or vegetarian?Have you thought about it after reading this book? With options like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's it is becoming easier to make different consumption choices. Very interesting review!
June 24, 2009
It is unfair that people with autism are looked down on, I'm glad Temple found her calling in life. Wish there was a way to make Animal Shelter Pets treated better too, there are just so many homeless pets, no room for all of them! On a side note, something tells me you would really enjoy reading The Omnivore's Dilemma...
About the reviewer
Joy Schwabach ()
Ranked #478
I write the syndicated newspaper column "On Computers' with my husband, Bob Schwabach.  See oncomp.com for more.
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Temple Grandin has been known to crawl through slaughterhouses to get a sense of what the animals there are experiencing. An autistic woman who as a child was recommended for institutionalization, Grandin has managed not only to enter society's mainstream but ultimately to become prominent in animal research. An associate professor at Colorado State University, she designs facilities used worldwide for humane handling of livestock. She also invented a "hug machine" (based on a cattle-holding chute) that calms autistic children. In Animals in Translation, co-authored with science writer Catherine Johnson, Grandin makes an intriguing argument that, psychologically, animals and autistic people have a great deal in common—and that both have mental abilities typically underestimated by normal people. 
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