Southern Arkansas University is developing a new poultry complex to improve instruction and, it is hoped, create more candidates for jobs in the Arkansas poultry industry.
Dr. Jeffry Miller, Ralph Boulware Professor of Agriculture and chair of the Department of Agriculture, said the University has for the past year been looking at creating a small-scale complex that will allow students to observe and interact with different aspects of poultry production.
The 40-foot-wide building would be 230 feet long and have space for 600 birds. It would allow instruction in every step in the process – from breeder to hatchery, from broiler to processing – and reach a “wide range” of students, Miller said. The building would also contain a feed storage room and a classroom/laboratory.
Dr. Trey Berry, president of SAU, has said the new poultry unit would be aesthetically pleasing, as opposed to chicken houses of the past. According to the SAU Department of Agriculture, the boiler houses were shut down eight years ago, and the poultry-learning experience now centers on a small incubator, two sets of cages housing about 60 chickens, and obtaining broilers and breeders from producers for dissection.
Miller said the unit would be managed by faculty in the agriculture department and labor would be provided by students. “I want it to be near the agriculture building so that students can just walk out to it, a.m. or p.m. I don’t want them to have to drive across campus to check on the birds,” Miller said. “This will provide additional educational opportunities for the students.”
Animal classes involving poultry would be taught in the fall semester and the facility would be operated seasonally, saving on labor and management time, Miller said. He noted the possibility of adding a food science component to the facility.
Miller said the unit would cost an estimated $1 million and that architectural plans and artist renderings will be drawn up soon. “We are reaching out to leading poultry companies in this state, asking them for advice and suggestions. Our program will benefit employers by expanding the available workforce. Part of our mission as educators is to graduate students who will stay within the confines of our state.”
“We want to expose students to the realities of the industry,” Miller said. “The State of Arkansas estimates it takes about 120 graduates per year to keep our poultry industry in stable condition. That demand is not being met. We need to not only keep the industry stable but grow it.”
Miller said jobs in the poultry industry are and will continue to be abundant for Arkansas workers. “Many of our students come to us with an idea of what it is like to work in poultry,” Miller said. “We tell them what the truth is. Yes, they will learn the production aspect, but most of them will get jobs managing people. It is not what students think it is.”
He said a variety of talents and skills are needed in the industry. “If you can find a way to cut production or shipping costs by just 1/50th of one cent, you are a rock star in the poultry industry,” he said. “You will go very far if you can create new efficiencies that make more money.”