As I said on the Welcome page I am a poultry scientist. Naturally, you may be wondering, what is a Poultry Scientist? Well I study chicken development from egg to bird and use my research findings to develop management guidelines for the poultry industry to ensure that the chicken (or turkey, duck, geese, or pigeon) that you eat is produced humanely and efficiently. With the world’s population expected to reach 9.8 billion by 2050 we must make sure that we have a safe and productive system to feed the world with one of the best protein sources around.
Now that you know that you are probably wondering why I have decided to become a Poultry Scientist. Well I grew up in Michigan in a house in the country surrounded by trees where flock of turkeys lived. I remember being fascinated by them growing up and figured that I wanted to study them someday. In high school I was introduced to animal agriculture through involvement in 4-H. I was actually able to raise some turkeys of my own. As I started deciding what to study in college I was drawn to animal science and attended Michigan State University. While at Michigan State University I got involved in poultry research with the cage free laying hens on MSU campus and through the Midwest Poultry Consortium’s center of excellence scholarship program’s poultry science classes. Through the consortium’s program I was fortunate enough to intern in a hatchery for a duck producer, and have yet to encounter anything cuter than baby ducks. I spent two summers working with those baby ducks and realized that I was fascinated by the ability of these newly hatched ducks to be able to eat like adult ducks and grow up rapidly. Baby chicks (and ducks, or turkeys) will almost triple their body weight in a week. This interest and the network I developed through the Midwest poultry consortium led me to my masters research at Auburn University investigating the early life nutritional needs of broiler (meat-type) chickens. At Auburn, I discovered the remarkable reason behind poultry’s ability to grow so fast – their intestines. Within the first 24-48 hours after hatching the intestine begins to change from embryonic to mature (adult) cells. This enables them to digest and absorb complex molecules contained within poultry diets. Ever since I learned about this I have been obsessed and now regularly say that I love chicken intestines!
Today I am pursuing my doctorate at Virginia Tech studying in part how the intestine is capable of changing so quickly and how that mechanism relates to the birds ability to recover from intestinal injury, infection, or general damage. Such knowledge may translate to how we think about managing our own intestines and maintaining human health. It will also serve to identify management methods for people producing poultry to do so without the need for antibiotics. I hope to continue doing such research after obtaining my PhD through a faculty job at a university, where I would also be able to inspire and train the next generation of poultry scientists.