Capacity building in the chicken meat industry

10.07.18

Working in the chicken meat industry as a ‘poultry veterinarian’ or ‘technical services manager’ for a chicken meat company may not be the first words that role off a young child’s tongue when they are asked what they want to be when they grow up.

But things change and experiences lead us along paths we never knew existed. Some of that is fortuitous, and some of it is forging a bold new direction. Either way, working in the chicken meat industry is a rewarding experience – no two days are ever the same.

Part of Program Development Officer, Kylie Hewson’s role with the AgriFutures™ Chicken Meat Program, is to build capacity in the industry, plan for succession and find people with the right skills who are starting to utter the words ‘I want to work in the chicken meat industry’, a place in this fast paced and ever changing industry.

We interviewed two newcomers to find out how they made their start in the chicken meat industry.

Ryan Hopcroft: Assistant Nutritionist, Inghams

Tell me about your interests after school?

I was always interested in animals and science at school. I did all three sciences: chemistry, physics and biology. I have always had an interest in agriculture and sustainability. I decided to do a degree at the University of Sydney in Animal Veterinary Bioscience. It was a four year degree that included an honours project in fourth year. I worked in Peter Selle’s group looking at sorghum and using proteases try and digest them. I also did six weeks work experience with Greg Cronin at the Free Range Poultry Trial Farm Facility and ended up working there full time as a Research Assistant.

Did you do any Post Grad Studies?

Yes, I am still completing my PhD at the moment. The topic is ‘residual yolk usage in chickens’.

How did you get work experience in the chicken meat industry?

When I attended the APSS conference in February this year, I was speaking with Kylie Hewson the Program Development Officer for the AgriFutures™ Chicken Meat Program and said that I really wanted to meet some industry people. Kylie introduced me to Kath Balding and Geoff Clatworthy from Inghams. From this conversation, I was offered work experience at their Leppington Trial Facility. During my work experience, I took the opportunity to ask as them if there was room to have me work in the nutrition space at Inghams. The opportunity to attend the APSS conference was a valuable learning curve – I learnt how important it is to network, which isn’t something that comes naturally to me.

What value was there in being able to do work experience in the industry?

It was so valuable. I have ended up working in my dream role where I work feeding the chickens (as a nutritionist assistant) as well as doing some research. The hands-on work experience is so important, even if you don’t work in industry. As a researcher, understanding how the industry works give the research work so much more context.

What are you doing now?

In my role as a nutritionist assistant, I am working with data on breeder flocks and also on a unified statistics program and I also work with a graduate students program. My research experience brings value to Inghams and I just love that I get to feed chickens and also have a hand in the research undertaken at Inghams.

What would you recommend to others who want to work in the chicken meat industry?

My advice to others who want to work in the industry is to let someone know, talk to Kylie Hewson (Program Development Officer), attend conferences and meet people in the industry. I don’t think you necessarily need a degree, but figure out your strengths and how you might apply them in an industry role. Take opportunities that come up and most of all don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Opportunities only come to you, if you create them. Show your willingness to be there and give things a go.

Angela Scott: Poultry Internship, PIRSA

Tell me about your interests after school?

In my final years of high school I really wanted to be a vet, so I worked hard and got accepted into the University of Sydney. I have always had an interest in companion birds and kept a few at home. I had no idea about the poultry industry, and was only introduced to it in vet school where I became more interested. During fourth year I did an intensive animal unit and learnt about pigs and poultry. The lecturer was Dr Peter Groves and I asked him about how you get work in the poultry industry. Hearing of my interest in poultry, Peter invited me to the Poultry CRC Ideas Exchange Conference, which was my first introduction to the industry. Throughout my final year, I kept in touch with Peter until I finished my degree.

Did you do any Post Grad Studies?

I did my PhD in Avian Influenza mitigation.  I decided on this topic as there was an increasing popularity of Free Range Chicken and with that there was potential for an increase in outbreaks of Avian Influenza. I wanted to quantify the risk to commercial flocks.

What are your career aspirations?

Initially I wanted to be a companion animal vet. But after learning more about the livestock industry in my final years at university, I really wanted to work in something that had a bigger picture feel, such as with the government or in the livestock industry.

Did you have many contacts within the chicken meat industry?

My lecturer Dr Peter Groves was my first contact. I met a lot of industry people while I was doing my PhD, as I needed to visit a lot of farms so I needed to contact lots of companies to get permission to visit these farms. My PhD covered both eggs and meat chickens so I met people from both industries.

Once we had the results we ran workshops in the southern and eastern states, where we invited farmers to learn about the risk of Avian Influenza and how to reduce outbreaks. We also had government and policy decision makers attend the workshop which gave me the opportunity to make more connections in the industry.

How did you get work experience?

We ran a workshop in Adelaide, South Australia. It was actually the biggest workshop we’ve hosted. I met Margaret Sexton from PIRSA through these workshops.

How did you end up working at PIRSA?

Kylie Hewson from the AgriFutures™ Chicken Meat Program contacted me and asked if I would be interested in an industry internship through Poultry Hub. Kylie helped me identify the sorts of roles I might be interested in and it was through this that I found out about the opportunity to assist Margaret Sexton at PIRSA. They were looking for someone with vet qualifications and an interest in the poultry industry. I applied for it when it was advertised and got the internship.

What value was there in being able to do work experience in the industry?

I’m in the early stage of a two year internship. At the end of the contract I really hope there is the opportunity to take a permanent role in supporting the poultry industry.

I have really enjoyed the balance of field work and desk work. I do so many different things in the role, post mortems and large projects like the Mass Disposal mapping in South Australia. I love being involved in the bigger picture stuff.

What would you recommend to others who want to work in the chicken industry?

Try to approach industry people as much as possible. If you know someone in the industry, let them know you want to work in the poultry industry. They can provide a range of contacts. It’s usually the case that the industry needs new people so they’ll help you get a job. Kylie was at the Poultry CRC conferences, and at PIX and AVPA, she was quite involved with the students and has been helping bridge students with key contacts in industry and government.