Saturday, December 11, 2010

Butchers' Day Out!

I recently had the pleasure of attending The Ohio State University's second annual Animal Welfare Symposium. My former intern was back in Ohio for a few days, and we planned an educational "girls day" together! Abby & I met when I spoke to her Animal Science 600 class at OSU, and shortly after that we arranged for her to do an internship with me. It was wonderful fun! We both enjoyed it, and I think we spent many of her internship hours out trying lamb chops at different restaurants in Columbus! Abby now works in quality assurance for a major meat processor out of state, so it was a joy to get to spend time with her at the Symposium!

The Animal Welfare Symposium was a very educational event that featured speakers that were researchers, animal behaviorists, veterinarians, etc. I was particularly intrigued by a researcher who reported on her work evaluating the view of consumers on animal issues. One factor that amazed me was termed the "Underdog Theory", as there was a correlation between those in lower socio-economic groups ranking animal welfare concerns highly. The researcher theorized that humans who feel trod upon by society transfer these feelings of oppression to animals, thus resulting in increased desire to treat animals well. A gentleman in the audience raised the point that perhaps this same group would get most of their exposure to animal care issues through television -- which often sensationalizes animal care stories.

The highlight of the day was the opportunity to hear Dr. Temple Grandin speak! HBO recently aired a movie on Dr. Grandin, starring the actress Claire Danes. Dr. Grandin was diagnosed autistic as a child, and had difficulty communicating with humans. This same challenge, however, made her more observant of animal behavior. She now serves as a professor at Colorado State University, and is a leading expert on animal handling. I was quite impressed with the matter-of-fact approach that Dr. Grandin used in discussing animal care. She emphasized the importance of viewing facilities through the animal's perspective and noted that it is the quality of the handling performed by the human -- not the quality of the equipment used -- that matters most. Dr. Grandin offered straight-forward views on management practices. When asked about tail docking in sheep, she noted that it isn't always needed in the cooler climates out West, but -- for Eastern farmers -- tail docking can be an efficient management practice. This is due to the fact that warmer summers encourage flies, which are attracted to matted feces on a sheep's tail. Or, as Dr. Grandin put it, "You don't want to have maggots around their butts! That's nasty!"

The Animal Welfare Symposium was well-organized and I learned a great deal! Providing excellent animal care is important to farmers, and educational opportunities allow us to develop our skills . . . plus they provide wonderful "girls day" inspiration for two lady butchers!

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