By Gillan Ritchie
Poultry Times staff
ATHENS, Ga. – After 30 years working at the University of Georgia, Michael Lacy — head of UGA Department of Poultry Science — retired at the end of 2015.
Over the course of 30 years, Georgia’s poultry industry has seen a boom. According to Merritt Melancon, writer for the University of Georgia College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, farmers in the state produced 3.5 billion pounds of chicken in 1985; now, that production has doubled to 7 billion pounds.
Lacy was one of the driving forces for the poultry industry in Georgia. Without Lacy and College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Poultry Science Department, the poultry industry may not be where it is today.
“I started my studies in poultry science in 1980 and the poultry industry has changed quite a bit since then. In 1980, we needed seven weeks to grow a broiler to 4 pounds and thought a 2.1 feed conversion was really special,” Lacy said in an email. “Today, we can raise a 4-pound bird in less than five weeks with feed conversions less than 1.7.”
Lacy recalls reading in article in the early 1980s that characterized the poultry industry as “modern American agricultural success story.” But today, things are viewed differently.
“Our success and growth is too frequently criticized today as being corporate ag or factory farming. I am not ashamed in any way about our success,” Lacy said. “The industry has done and continues to do amazing work (such as) enhancing quality, reducing costs to consumers and minimizing environmental impact by continuing to improve efficiency. It is incredible the progress that has been made. Even more amazing is that scientists and industry professionals working together are predicting even more significant advancements in future years.”
In 1985, Lacy came to University of Georgia to work as a UGA Cooperative Extension poultry scientist. Lacy worked toward his doctorate at Virginia University and was trained to conduct research poultry physiology.
Creating a way to cool chickens
During the 1980s, farmers struggled to keep their poultry houses well ventilated and as a result, lost thousands of chickens each year.
“There would be articles in the paper every year, right around the Fourth of July, where farmers would lose several hundred thousand birds,” Lacy said in an article published by the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences. “A heat wave would roll in where it would hover at around 100 degrees and just decimate entire flocks. And, of course, it affected the larger birds the most, so farmers would put all of this time and money into a flock and then lose them all just before they went to market.”
But Lacy’s research in poultry physiology paid off. He teamed up with Mike Czarick, an agricultural engineer now working in poultry science, to design poultry houses with ventilation systems to help reduce heat stress.
Lacy and Czarick’s cooperation helped create a design for broiler houses that used ventilation fans as well as cooling systems; their work propelled the university to the forefront of poultry housing technologies.
“I am proud of the cooperative work Mike Czarick (and) I did on ventilation methods to reduce heat stress in broilers,” Lacy said.
Now, the university offers workshops — started by Lacy and Czarick — for poultry farmers on poultry ventilation.
Leading the way
In 2001, Lacy stepped into the role of department head for the Poultry Science Department. Lacy, along with poultry science research and Extension faculties, worked closely with researchers in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, agricultural engineers and poultry farmers and to develop a voluntary nutrient-management framework. The developed framework assisted farmers in complying with the Clean Water Act before new state and federal laws were imposed.
“This voluntary program was a huge success and was considered a model program by state and federal agencies,” said Abit Massey, former president of the Georgia Poultry Federation, said in the article. The development and adoption of those best practices helped keep poultry production in the state, Massey added.
Lacy as taken several risks and because of that, the department has been able to lead the research on topics such as chicken genetics and endocrinology. Major poultry companies across the globe now seek out the department for consultations. Researchers and teachers hired by Lacy are allowed to work independently.
“I am also pleased that so many of the faculty, staff and students in poultry science at UGA have been recognized at the college, university, national and international level with awards for their research, teaching and Extension efforts,” Lacy said. “It was a great privilege to be honored by my colleagues by being elected a Fellow of the Poultry Science Association.”
A successful teacher
Due to the cutting-edge technology in the Department of Poultry Science at UGA, the number of undergraduate students has increased over the years. Now, the Poultry Science Department is a standout among other departments across the world. Since Lacy has taken over the department, the biological sciences major has grown by 300 percent; and the Georgia College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences’ largest programs are the pre-medical and pre-veterinary.
While Lacy has played a large role in the department’s success over the last few decades in the poultry industry, he is proud of the department’s overall achievements.
When asked about what he enjoyed most about his job, Lacy’s answer was the perfect conclusion to long and rewarding career.
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