AUBURN, Ala.—Auburn University’s new $7.1 million Poultry and Animal Nutrition Center, a state-of-the-art academic and research feed production facility located on a 50-acre site north of the main campus, officially opened Friday, Nov. 16, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony led by university administrators and representatives of the poultry and feed mill industries.
“The new Poultry and Animal Nutrition Center at Auburn is the result of a great partnership between the university and agribusiness,” Auburn President Jay Gogue said.
The feed mill has had strong industry support since plans began taking shape in early 2008, when a technical advisory committee that included poultry nutritionists and feed mill personnel was formed to provide input on the facility’s design and equipment. Thus far, more than 40 corporations have donated to the facility, including $750,000 in equipment.
The feed mill opens as the nation observes the 150th anniversary of the 1862 Morrill Land-Grant Act, which established a system of public universities to provide practical educations to the sons and daughters of America’s working class. Auburn and the more than 100 other land-grant universities nationwide have a three-fold mission of teaching, research and outreach. Auburn officials say the Poultry and Animal Nutrition Center is poised to enhance programs in all three areas.
Housed inside a 12,500-square-foot steel building, the new feed mill is comprised of nine prefabricated modules, each 40 feet long by 8 feet wide by 9 feet and 6 inches high, that were manufactured in Minnesota, trucked 1,100-plus miles to Auburn on nine flatbed trailers and then assembled on site in stacks of three.
The modular design is “a small-scale adaptation of a commercial mega-facility” and is ideal for teaching, said Don Conner, head of the Department of Poultry Science at Auburn and the driving force in moving the feed mill from an idea to reality.
“Students can come in here and stand in one place and see every step of the milling process and how all the pieces work together,” Conner said. “Students want and need hands-on, real-world experience, and they’re going to get that here.
“One of our department’s key missions is to serve the industry, and producing outstanding employees is one of the ways we do that,” Conner said. “The experience students get working and learning at the feed mill will equip them with the knowledge and skills the industry is demanding.”
The feed mill, in fact, will be operated primarily by students, as part of the poultry science curriculum.
“We’re in the process of putting together an introduction-to-feed-milling course, and we’re going to move labs in some of our existing courses out here as well,” Conner said. “We also are going to develop more aggressive courses that eventually will be part of a degree program in feed mill management.”
That’s good news to Auburn poultry science alum Mitchell Pate, who headed Sylvest Farms Inc.’s feed milling division in Montgomery for 16 years before returning to Auburn in 2006 as director of the Poultry Research Unit.
“The industry is losing feed mill managers; we need the next generation,” Pate said. “I am very excited about the nutrition center and the impact it will have on the poultry industry and on Auburn University.”
As director, Pate also is overseeing the move of the feed mill—and, subsequently, the Poultry Research Unit’s poultry houses and processing plant—to the north Auburn campus from South College Street, where the facilities have been located for almost four decades. That property abuts what is now the Auburn Research Park, and Auburn’s master land-use plans call for the feed mill, poultry houses and processing plant that comprise the research unit to be relocated to the north Auburn campus, which is home to several Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station programs, including the Department of Fisheries and Allied Aquacultures’ 1,600-acre E.W. Shell Fisheries Center. The feed mill is the first poultry science building at north Auburn.
But the old feed mill was well past its prime, Conner said.
“It served us very well, but it is so outdated now that it had become ineffective for teaching purposes,” Conner said. “Research has been extremely limited at the old location, too. The new feed mill will be a huge jump for nutrition research at Auburn.”
Research is where the new facility’s scalability is especially crucial. Patterned after California Polytechnic State University’s Animal Nutrition Center, which Hopkins, Minn.–based T.E. Ibberson Company designed and built in 2008, Auburn’s Poultry and Animal Nutrition Center is built to scale and is scalable by factors of five, 10, 12 and 15. That will allow research conducted at the feed mill to be translated for any size commercial feed mill.
And there is an urgent and growing need for advanced research in animal nutrition.
“In Alabama and globally, the agriculture sectors face daunting challenges in the future, and as demands on our resources continue to soar, animal nutrition will become a huge global issue,” Auburn College of Agriculture Dean and Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station Director Bill Batchelor said. “The feed-milling industry will be more essential than ever, as the need for feeds that optimize poultry, livestock and fish production increase.”
Auburn research will focus on getting as much nutritional value out of feed as possible, not only for poultry but other agriculturally important animals. And feed produced at the facility will be used as food for the university’s 20,000-bird research flock and livestock research animals. In addition to Auburn scientists, researchers from private corporations will be allowed to contract use of the feed mill for some projects.
Conner said the feed mill also will be used to host continuing education workshops and short courses for people in the industry.
In addition to Conner, Gogue and Batchelor, others participating in the opening ceremony were Auburn Board of Trustees member Jimmy Sanford, Alabama Poultry and Egg Association executive director Johnny Adams; Randall Ennis of Huntsville, an Auburn poultry science alumnus and CEO of Aviagen Inc., the world’s premier poultry breeding company; and William McLean of Laurel, Miss., CEO of The Essmueller Company, a leading manufacturer of feed mill equipment.