Monday, September 25, 2023

Poultry science in Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences aims for growth

By Helen White Texas A&M University Texas A&M AgriLife photo/Sam Craft Barbara and Bill Huffman ’53, longtime supporters of the Texas A&M University Department of Poultry Science, have established an endowed chair to fund a faculty leader in poultry research and teaching.

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COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Not content to rest on past success, the nationally top-ranked Department of Poultry Science in the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is looking to broaden the scope of its teaching, research and service.

“The past five years have been a time of tremendous growth for the department,” said Dr. Audrey McElroy, interim head of the TAMU Department of Poultry Science. “We have doubled our enrollment numbers, our undergraduate student enrollment is the largest of the six poultry science departments in the U.S., and our students have won 16 national poultry judging championships over the last 12 years.”

To expand the department’s impact on the poultry science industry, McElroy discussed the department’s need to increase involvement with private donors as well as the poultry industry.

“I believe by creating these collaborations, we will not only expand our programs, but strengthen their effectiveness.”

Top goals: Emphasize student/faculty excellence, develop cutting-edge facilities

Maintaining excellence in undergraduate student education is a must.

“We emphasize professional development and prepare our students to be strong candidates for the poultry industry or graduate or professional school,” McElroy said. “The industry recognizes our students’ competency and leadership, and that’s why we have 100 percent job placement of our undergraduates.”

Further illustrating why the industry values students of the department, she mentioned that this year the Poultry Science Club won Student Club of the Year as well as Poultry Student of the Year in a national college career program competition sponsored by the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association.

In addition to excellence with student programming, McElroy identified faculty research as another goal for growing the department. The main research emphasis is on nutrition, intestinal health, reproduction and genomics.

“Our immediate goal is to hire new faculty members to expand our research programs,” McElroy said. “Several faculty members are funded by federal grants and many conduct research with the poultry industry, directly benefiting our stakeholders with applied research.”

Improving outdated facilities is crucial to support and retain current faculty and recruit new faculty and students.

“Other poultry science departments have campaigned for facility improvements, and we’re a little behind, to be honest,” McElroy said. “We need more state-of-the-art facilities or we won’t be able to attract the type of faculty and provide training for students that we need.”

McElroy said a new intestinal health facility at the Poultry Science Research, Teaching and Extension Center is nearing completion, funded by a gift from Merck Animal Health and Tyson Foods with an additional contribution from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

The facility will enable the department to collaborate with the poultry industry to conduct applied research and educational programming that addresses industry challenges for bird health and welfare. Cutting-edge research capabilities will also help the department improve the funding of industry contracts and federal competitive grants.

Former student paves the way for poultry science research, teaching

Leading by example and strengthening the department, Barbara and Bill Huffman ’53 gave an endowment to help the department accelerate its teaching and research goals.

With funds from the Barbara J. Huffman and William M. (Bill) Huffman ’53 Chair in Poultry Science, the department can recruit a prestigious poultry research and teaching leader to expand its faculty, McElroy said. Distribution from the endowment will support the chairholder’s teaching, research, service and professional development activities.

Bill Huffman’s loyalty and appreciation for the department began when he was a student. In the spring of 1952, he was a member of the Texas A&M Junior Poultry Judging Team that won the Junior National Poultry Judging Contest. In the fall semester that same year, as part of the Senior Poultry Judging Team, he was the highest scoring individual at the Senior National Poultry Judging Contest. He earned a bachelor’s degree in poultry science in 1953.

To recognize the decades of success of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ poultry judging teams, the Huffmans donated funds for a trophy case in the Kleberg Animal and Food Sciences Center.

Bill Huffman applied the skills he learned in poultry judging to his successful private law practice.

“My success is because of the analytical skills I learned in poultry judging,” he said. “I use those skills in decision-making to this day: Facts drive results. If you know the facts, you can generally predict the results. If you see the results, you can usually figure out why and how those results came to be.”

Bill Huffman said he and Barbara give back because of the pleasure it gives them, the desire to give where there is a need and from a sense of gratitude.

“My scholarship made it possible for me to attend college,” he said. “The bottom line is if you have benefited from Texas A&M, be grateful and do something to help others.”

Besides the Department of Poultry Science, the Huffmans have supported Texas A&M through contributions to many scholarships, the Corps of Cadets, The Association of Former Students, the Mays Business School and the Bush School of Government and Public Service. In 2017, Bill Huffman was inducted into the Hall of Honor of the Texas A&M University Corps of Cadets and recognized as a Distinguished Alumnus by The Association of Former Students.

McElroy said the Huffmans have unselfishly supported poultry science programs for years by attending departmental functions and interacting with students, parents and other former students.

“To honor their support, we recognized them at our spring awards banquet with the first Supporter of the Department award for those who have stepped up, contributed to departmental programs and really allowed the department to succeed,” McElroy said.

Even though the department has been through a time of tremendous growth, it is still known for its close-knit, family-type environment because former students like Bill Huffman tend to stay involved.

“We have many former students who give their time, and we encourage former students to be involved with the department as much as possible,” McElroy said. “Some return to help teach classes, interact with the Poultry Science Club and the Aggie Poultry Ambassador group, and provide field trips for students to visit poultry industry facilities.”

Giving back: Supporting student recruitment and programs

McElroy said there are plenty of opportunities to support student and youth programs to include more participants and broaden the scope of what they can learn.

  • The department introduced two three-day, on-campus summer programs targeted at potential students. High school students attending the Texas Poultry Youth Ambassador program learned about poultry science, the poultry industry and leadership training to become an ambassador. At the inaugural Poultry Judging Camp this summer, over 100 students from 9 to 18 years old learned how to judge poultry and gained industry-relevant information for evaluating poultry products.
  • Another way the department serves Texas youth is by providing wing bands and distributing chicks and turkey poults to 4-H and FFA youth who exhibit poultry at major, county and local stock shows and projects throughout the state. Student employees and volunteers from the Aggie Poultry Ambassadors and the Poultry Science Club assist the department with wing banding approximately 300,000 birds each year.
  • The Poultry Science Study Abroad program is a two-week, on-site comparative study of integrated broiler production in Central Mexico from the hatchery to the processing plant. Support for tuition and fees for the program would allow more students to participate each year.
  • Participants in the Aggie Poultry Ambassadors program fill leadership roles and represent students at recruiting functions and poultry industry events. The program is self-funded through student-led fundraisers. Additional support would help the program grow in membership and activities.

Keeping the momentum growing

To learn more about contributing to programs in the TAMU Department of Poultry Science, contact Kyle Brock ’96, director of development with the Texas A&M Foundation, at 979-845-9582 or

Former students interested in participating in poultry science programs and activities can contact Lesley Gleason, program coordinator with the TAMU Department of Poultry Science, at 979-845-1654 or

Helen White is a communication specialist for Texas A&M University’s AgriLife.

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