When noted animal behaviorist Temple Grandin visited the Eastern Kentucky University campus in September 2011 to deliver a Chautauqua lecture, it set in motion a dramatic improvement at EKU’s Meadowbrook Farm.
Later this month, the University will dedicate a new, state-of-the-art beef handling facility personally designed by Grandin and her colleague, Mark Deesing. A ceremony is scheduled for Friday, April 21, at 1 p.m. at Meadowbrook, followed by an open house and guided tours.
Before her evening lecture at Eastern, Grandin visited the University’s farm, where she addressed faculty, students and regional agriculturalists. It was at that time that Dr. Ed Fredrickson, associate professor in EKU’s Department of Agriculture, asked Grandin if she would help design a new beef handling system that would incorporate many of the livestock handling concepts that she often promotes to a livestock industry anxious to improve the health and welfare of animals in their care.
“The goal of her work,” said Fredrickson, “is to use the natural behavior of livestock to design systems that minimize stress and injury to livestock. An added benefit of these systems is that they require fewer people to move and care for more cattle.”
Working from designs by Grandin and Deesing in their book “Humane Livestock Handling,” Mark Metcalf of nearby Metcalf Metal added some unique innovations of his own, including magnetic gate closures. “Mr. Metcalf and his crew did superb work,” Fredrickson said. “We are certain that many people will use Mr. Metcalf’s innovations elsewhere as new facilities are built.”
Besides the obvious benefits to the animals, students will learn on a system that now dominates the industry and is much safer for handlers.
The new EKU facilities are equipped to automatically identify and weigh cattle as they cross a hydraulic squeeze chute that secures them without injury. “The entire system allows students to safely access all parts of the animal as they learn routine management skills and conduct research projects. Along with our students, we expect the facilities will be used for Extension and other educational programs, benefiting Kentucky cattlemen.”
The Silencer chute helps facilitate various services, such as vaccination, castration, breeding and pregnancy checks, explained Justin McKinney, director of farms for EKU.
The previous facility, adjacent to the new one, was constructed approximately 35 years ago and has become outdated as technology and research has improved, according to McKinney.
The new facility, in operation at Meadowbrook since September 2016, “is now the norm,” McKinney said. “It’s better for the cattle. It’s better for the handlers. It’s just more efficient all the way around.”
Noting that the tall metal walls of the new facility restrict the vision of cattle, McKinney said, “The animals remain calm in the holding pen and are not trying to get out.”
McKinney credited Fredrickson for his vision and Department of Agriculture Chair Dr. John Settimi for his support.
While on a visit to the farm one recent afternoon, 2005 EKU agriculture grad Nikki Whitaker, now membership coordinator for the Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association (KCA), reminisced about her experiences with the old facility and said today’s students “will be well equipped to work any cattle herd in Kentucky.”
One of those current students, Curtis Spencer, wrote in a recent note to Fredrickson that “the handling facility is top-notch and the setup great. This helps me look at my own layout and ways to improve cattle flow and reduce stress. The type of lab environment is one of the reasons I picked EKU.”
Although Grandin will be unable to attend, Deesing is expected to speak at the April 21 dedication ceremony, along with EKU President Michael Benson, college and departmental officials, and state officials. The public is invited. Prior to the ceremony, the KCA Executive Committee will hold a business meeting at the farm.
Operated by the University’s Department of Agriculture, Meadowbrook Farm is located eight miles east of campus in eastern Madison County near Waco. For directions, visit https://farms.eku.edu/sites/farms.eku.edu/files/files/directions_2016.pdf.
Bottom photo: The old facilities (right) and adjacent new facilities