By BECKY GILLETTE
Dr. Amy Batal, is known as “the mastermind behind Sanderson Farms’ innovative feed formulas.” Batal is an integrated poultry nutritionist who is the corporate nutritionist for Sanderson Farms, which processes 510 million chickens per year. Batal decides what ingredients they need to feed the chickens to get the best nutrition possible.
“I work to meet all the nutrient requirement for our birds to have the best health and get optimal performance,” said Betal, who is married with five children.
Batal said she has always been interested in animal production. She grew up in Southern California and went to college at California Polytechnical State University in San Luis Obispo where she got a bachelor’s degree in animal science. She received a master’s degree in poultry nutrition at Iowa State in Ames, Iowa, before earning a Ph.D. in poultry nutrition at the University of Illinois.
It is important that the feed not only be nutritious, but cost-effective and sustainable.
“If the feed is not cost effective, then we will be wasting money and it can actually be unhealthy to the birds,” Batal said. “If we feed the birds too much protein, this can actually lead to the growth of ‘unbeneficial’ bacteria in their hindgut and make them more susceptible to bacteria issues such as enteritis. Thus, we want to feed them what they need, but not too much. Too much of a good thing is not always a good thing.”
Poultry is one of the most inexpensive forms of animal protein due to being the most efficient animal at converting feed ingredients to meat. The company yields more than 10,000 pounds of salable chicken products for every 2.3 acres of harvested soybeans and 1.6 acres of harvested corn.
Batal gives credit to the birds themselves for being sustainable. “Think about it,” said Batal. “Chickens are great converters of something that’s really not of value to humans as a great protein source.”
Batal said the ag industry has always impressed her at how sustainable it is.
“They reuse everything,” she said. “Nothing goes to waste. Also, the more accurate we formulate our diets to meet the birds’ specific needs as they age, the stage of growth and production, the less nutrients are excreted. This is extremely beneficial for our environment because we get less nitrogen and phosphorus in our water runoff, etc. We have been able to make a diet that not only is healthy and cost effective, but also does not lead to excess nutrients being excreted into our environment. Keeping up the health of the birds is critical so they can get optimum digestion of the diet we feed.”
Ingredients in the feed include corn, soybean meal, meat and bone meal, fat, amino acids, vitamins and minerals. The diet gets changed up as ingredients change, when prices changes, or as seasons change.
“I also will make changes depending on what the birds are telling me,” she said. “They always tell the real story. If they are growing well and are healthy, I know I have the ingredients measured correctly and I have the nutrient specifications right on. To do this I have to keep track of the ingredient quality we are receiving, make sure our suppliers are delivering what they should, make sure we are producing feed correctly, that the feed is made correctly and that it is getting to the correct farms. I go out to the feed mill and the broiler and breeder farms. I have to see the birds to know what they are telling me about the ingredients. I let the birds tell me if something is not right.”
As the birds age and grow, the nutrient requirements change. They also have parent stock, hens and roosters that are breeding to get the eggs they hatch to get broilers. The parent birds require different nutrient profiles than the broilers.
With a humid environment where the chickens are raised, you might think it would be a challenge to keep feed from spoiling. But Batal said their feed is used very quickly.
“We do not have any issue with feed spoiling because our feed and our ingredients do not sit around,” Batal said. “The humidity is more of an issue with keeping our birds cool and comfortable.”
Some prices for feed ingredients change significantly from day-to-day and week-to -week. Batal only negotiates prices for their more long-term price contracts with suppliers. She works on quarterly bids, bi-annual bids or yearly bids.
The current low commodity prices can be a benefit, but Batal said sometimes poultry companies make the most money when the commodity prices are high.
“It all depends on supply and demand at the time,” she said. “We enjoy low commodity prices.”
Batal is from California, and has lived in a number of states, spending the most time in California and Georgia.
“Moving to Mississippi was a big change,” Batal said. “My kids love it in Petal. The school district is the best school district my kids have been in. I love being close to the Coast. We have a boat and love getting out on the water. Mississippi is a culture different from the one I grew up with, but I do enjoy Mississippi. I love the culture here. It has been fun learning about the Creole culture and the different food. I enjoy Mississippi and hope to be in Mississippi and working for Sanderson Farms for the next 30 years or until retirement.”
Sanderson Farms, based in Laurel, has nine feed mills with a capacity of producing 7 million tons of feed each year, and is supplied with chickens by about 1,000 independent poultry farms. It is the third largest public company based in Mississippi based on market capitalization (the value of a company that is traded on the stock market, calculated by multiplying the total number of shares by the present share price), and is the largest public company employer with more than 16,000 employees, 5,435 of which are located in Mississippi. It is the third largest poultry producer in the country.
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