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Published February 04, 2013, 10:54 AM

Speak up

America’s most famous animal scientist has a message for North Dakota State University agriculture students: Speak up.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — America’s most famous animal scientist has a message for North Dakota State University agriculture students:

Speak up.

“It takes more effort to get the word out on good stuff than it does on bad stuff — 10 times more effort, but it can be done,” Grandin told more than 200 students and agricultural faculty. “Use your social networks. It doesn’t even cost anything. You’ve got to do it.”

Grandin, 65, wearing a Colorado State University green and gold western-embossed shirt, seemed at home in North Dakota State University’s Shepperd Arena. From the livestock arena floor, she offered both technical descriptions about improving animal care across numerous livestock species, and advice about how to improve the livestock industry’s image.

She is famous for overcoming her own autism and designing and certifying livestock handling facilities to reduce stress, and for her work for more than a decade with companies such as McDonald’s restaurants to improve conditions in slaughter plants.

The subject of an Emmy-winning HBO movie in 2010, Grandin is a celebrity among students, many of whom asked to be photographed or get autographs from her.

Grandin said she doesn’t expect large restaurant chains to do public relations campaigns on behalf of farmers, but farmers today have unprecedented access to various public constituents through the Internet. “You’ve got Facebook pages,” Grandin said. “How many people here have Facebook friends in major cities?” More than half of the students raised their hands.

“Get on there and start posting those pictures, telling them about the beef plant video, about other good videos,” she said. “How many people have seen ‘I’m Farming and I Grow it?’” she asked, referring to a video parody by Kansas State University students that showed some pride in agriculture and went viral on the Internet.

“Well, those K-State students put the big PR companies to shame,” Grandin said. “They did a great job. We need to be doing more things like that.”

Students should post images of simple things. “Just taking care of calves — you can take Facebook pictures and send them to your friends in Chicago,” she said.

Interesting chores

“What’s chores to you is interesting to the public. Things like feed wagons, dishing out feed. They’ve never seen anything like that before. Or just explaining how a squeeze-chute works. And how you vaccinate. And that feedlots have hospitals and that we actually give individual care to cattle. Those are the kind of things we need to be showing people. I talk about that stuff all of the time. We’ve got to show all the good stuff we do.”

Grandin said she doesn’t know if large restaurant chains will have much to do with telling agriculture’s positive story.

There are things that the livestock industry must fix on its own.

Communication job

Grandin said the consuming public thinks of the beef industry as more of a “factory farm” than it does the dairy industry — with its stanchions and barn care. “In fact, it’s just the opposite,” she said. “Beef’s done a lousy job of communicating with the public. We need to be putting up our own videos. We need to just open up the door, electronically.”

Grandin often is quoted for interpretation after a video is taken inside a livestock enterprise and exposed by animal rights groups.

Grandin declined to assess whether groups like the Humane Society of the United States are getting stronger or more influential in the U.S. policy scene.

“What we have to do is tell our story and clean up our house where it needs to be cleaned up. (Livestock) handling is one of the bright spots, but I’m getting really concerned about the heat stress issue” in feedlots, she said.